Sue Blundell has lived in Fitzrovia since 1975, been closely involved with Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association for many years, and now regularly writes for Fitzrovia News, in addition to chairing Fitzrovia Trust.
“For a long time Fitzrovia was very run down. it was made up of very poor, very cheap, rented accommodation, which is why it was seen as an area with problems. The area was down at heel, seen as a backwater behind Oxford Street.
This was always a creative area, but it’s now much more about creative industries than creative individuals. There were less large businesses then, but a lot more small shops and restaurants, mainly run by Cypriots – they’ve all gone now. There were no ‘destination’ shops, but people came here for those restaurants. My street is much nosier in the evenings now, as people have a tendency to forget others live here. It would have been in 1987 that the Tesco in Goodge Street was going to close and we mounted a campaign to save it! We wanted it to be an area where ordinary people could live and shop – but now we can’t move for supermarkets. I do lament the loss of the shops.
The area attracted a lot of immigrants for a long time – Greeks, Italians and Bangladeshis among them – but they started to leave in the 80’s, possibly due to Maggie Thatcher removing security of tenure for tenants in the Private Rented Sector. In their place there’s been a rise in owner occupiers - for a variety of reasons inner city areas have become more popular places to live, in a way that they weren’t previously. There’s been a wholesale change in the way people view central London living, since out of town shopping slowed and government put more of an accent back onto the city centre.
Our major concern at Fitzrovia Trust is how much property prices have gone up. We try to create social housing in the area by purchasing commercial properties with creating social housing on the upper floors, but that’s much more difficult now. We never had a huge amount of social housing – but what we had before we still have. I suspect that as property values are so high here people wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Right to Buy.
Because of the changing profile of the area services have become more expensive – I wouldn’t dream of going to the dentist here – I went into one and it was £150 to see the hygienist! Also, we used to have a library on Little Portland Street, but it closed in the 80s. I go to St Pancras but that’s not accessible for many people. However, I can’t say I’ve noticed a change in the community organisations. FNA hasn’t changed enormously – that’s one of its great points. The fact that they and others have run a very important series of campaigns has ensured that the area has retained the character and success that it has.
I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else – it’s not just the convenience but also the feel of the area. However, I feel the social mix is disappearing along with the smaller shops. Personally, I’d still rather live in a more mixed area. The change I’m conscious of is that a lot of people who work for the BBC or architects firms have moved in to the area. It’s become more middle class. When people start moving into the new flats on the Middlesex hospital site, they’re either going to live here and make a rich ‘ghetto’, or leave them empty as second homes. Neither is desirable. Government changes, like removing the council tax discount on second homes, may make a difference; or with more social housing it could be good. That’s not going to happen – but I live in hope!”