An area once dominated by council estates and disused warehouses is now home to galleries, trendy eateries and Europe’s tallest skyscraper – is it time to invest?
When Jay Jopling, London’s silver haired commercial art colossus, decided to add a third outpost to his White Cube empire on Bermondsey Street it catapulted the area into the limelight and firmly into the list of property hotspots.
“And down in Bermondsey — good grief, south of the river!” gasped The Sunday Times architecture critic Hugh Pearman.
But the move comes as no shock to those in the know, because slowly but surely this little patch of south London is fast becoming the capital’s third artistic hub. The White Cube, is in fact the white icing on the SE1 cake.
So when it comes to buying property is there still time to get a slice of that cake or has the moment passed?
“Personally I think Bermondsey is undervalued at the moment and we are going to see a rise in prices over the next five to ten years,” explains Ella Wood, sales negotiator at Foxton’s London Bridge office.
“It is proving very popular with buyers and rental income is very good in the area. The arrival of the White Cube is just a validation of the area’s progress.”
Bermondsey hugs the south bank of the Thames right behind London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The area’s closeness to central London, and more particularly Canary Wharf, has seen it rise in popularity with City workers who can simply walk to work.
“You should see the march of suits making their way across London Bridge every morning – it is something to behold, the area around Bank as well as Canary Wharf is so close,” adds Wood.
Back in the nineties, Bermondsey was somewhat of an industrial wasteland until an area known as Shad Thames was redeveloped. The warehouses were converted into stylish (and expensive) flats.
“Shad Thames was a kick back from Wapping and Limehouse – two areas used to provide pied-a-terres for City workers,” explains Cate Dodkin, sales manager at Foxtons.
The converted warehouses have proven popular over the past ten years with many of the apartments priced at around £1,000 per square foot.
Terrence Conran gave the area his seal of approval when he opened a number of now well-known riverside restaurants including Pont de la Tour, the Blueprint Cafe and the Butler’s Wharf Chop House.
Pont de la Tour received an altogether more high profile seal of approval when then PM Tony Blair took President Clinton to dine at the riverside venue back in 2007.
But this is old news. Dodkin is quick to point out that while Shad Thames has been a popular choice for some time, the rest of Bermondsey is starting to catch up and the kind of buyers attracted to the area have diversified.
“There are so many different pockets in the area, when I moved to Long Lane in the middle of Bermondsey seven years ago everyone asked ‘what on earth are you doing!?’ but the area has changed dramatically.”
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Something for everyone in Bermondsey
Source: Paul Simpson on Flickr
Whenever you speak to local estate agents they describe the area as having many, very distinct areas. There’s the uber expensive riverside Shad Thames mentioned above, then there’s Bermondsey Street, an area not unlike Shoreditch’s Rivington Street – scattered with trendy eateries and independent stores – and then there’s the council estates to the south towards Old Kent Road.
Whatever your scene, or indeed your budget, there seems to be an area for you and all within walking distance of various amenities.
“If you compare the area to somewhere like Islington – the types of people living here and moving into the area are incredibly different. When the market changes the diversity will stand the area and its investors in good stead,” explains Dodkin.
City workers are keen to buy in the area, the artistic crowds are moving in, there are many students living in the area and first time buyers are lapping up the cheaper ex-council – it certainly is a melting pot.
The ex-council flats around the south of Bermondsey are something of an investor’s dream. Selling for around £350 – £400 per square foot they can achieve yields of around seven per cent.
The new Shoreditch
Bermondsey Street (where you’ll find Jopling’s latest gallery space) and Bermondsey Square have become a new arty mecca. The White Cube joins the Fashion and Textiles Museum, the Poussin Gallery and the Glass Art Gallery in and around the street.
To feed the hungry art lovers and hipsters there is a plethora of renowned eateries on the road such as Delfina, The Garrson, Village East and Bermondsey Kitchen, all filled with the familiar distressed wooden furniture and idiosyncratic chintz that we are accustomed to in east London.
Source: Ewan-M on Flickr
“The area has started to attract the arty and trendy crowds,” explains Rob Wray, owner of the Shortwave cinema/café on Bermondsey Square.
“The artists that don’t perhaps have the cash are in studios further south than Bermondsey Street but perceptions of the area are definitely changing. Years ago it was only the northern end of the street that had the restaurants and bars but they have all moved down this end.
“When the idea of the cinema came about in 2001, none of the big players were interested and I took up the project. They’d probably have a different choice if it happened now,” adds Wray.
The very existence of the art house cinema is testament to the area’s gentrification and, according to Wray, the locals love his films.
“There’s a new breed of people moving to the area, ex-Shoreditch crowds are moving down having been priced out of E1,” says Dodkin.
The Shortwave café is on Bermondsey Square at the south end of Bermondsey Street. It has long been home to the famous antiques fair every Friday but has undergone regeneration between 2007 and 2009 to include apartments, the cinema, a boutique hotel and Sainsbu
Igloo, the people behind the project wanted to add a focal point to the square that would be both striking and useful. The result is a bike shed designed by architect Sarah Wigglesworth.
“”We wanted to add a focal point for residents to meet at that would give the square a spark,” says Peter Connolly of Igloo.
“There’s a real spark about the area now and we’re attracting people that want to own and occupy their homes. We added to the antiques market by encouraging the introduction of a farmers market on a Saturday and we are hoping to branch into seasonal evening markets also,” he adds.
Forget Borough Market, it looks like foodies will be milling around Bermondsey Square for Saturdays to come.
“The regeneration of Bermondsey Square has done a lot for the area and most practically has brought a super market and a cash machine – two things that were missing from the area,” explains Mark O’Kane of Stirling Ackroyd.
The Shard effect
It is clear that Bermondsey has undergone a transformation, the landscape has changed as much as the attitudes but those wondering if they might have missed the boat on this one would do well to look at the biggest addition to Bermondsey’s landscape.
The Shard (at 310m) will be the tallest structure in Europe when it is completed in 2013 and is often described by the developers as a vertical city. It will host numerous offices, restaurants, a spa, a new Shangri-La Hotel, residential apartments and an observatory.
One thing that has held the area back over the last few years has been the lack of high street shopping opportunities. Could this be about to change?
“One of the main downfalls of the area is that if you want to buy a pair of jeans, you have to go across the river to Canary Wharf or Oxford Street,” says Dodkin.
“There are plans for shops underneath The Shard what will solve that problem. When I first moved to the area few years ago it was merely considered to be a transport hub, somewhere you went to, to go elsewhere – now it is a destination,” she adds.
The race to beat The Shard may well be on for hungry property hunters.
“The demand for property in the area is expected to rise when The Shard is complete. It will bring with it an entire community of workers and a lot of vendors are waiting until it is finished before moving in,” explains O’Kane.
“I would definitely advise people to buy now rather than wait until The Shard is complete.”
You heard the man.
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Source: Paul Simpson on Flickr