Published in City A.M, September 2019
Although it is only divided from Kew by a thin stretch of river, Brentford and its West London neighbour could not be more different. Take their history, for example. While the former started out as a country retreat for royals, Brentford has built itself on being a hive of industry.
In the Victorian era a dock designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel was built there, where workers loaded up boats with coal, steel and timber from the railway to be sent along the river to the Docklands. Post-war, Brentford became the starting point of The Golden Mile – a stretch of art deco factories that once produced everything from gyroscopes to potato crisps.
Developer Ballymore is now trying to capitalise on this industrial heritage by creating a new district combining housing, independent shops and restaurants and cultural spaces. It is called The Brentford Project, and the first homes are available to buy this week.
There is a template for this kind of thing in Peckham and Hackney. But what does post-industrial regeneration look like when it happens just down the A4 from Heathrow?
Walking down Brentford High Street, the development is impossible to miss. This is because the floor and walls have been painted bright blue, in an installation by artist Huw Morgan. Ballymore’s sales director Jenny Steen tells me this is to signpost the presence of the water, which “even some residents have forgotten about” because it was closed off for many years.
Ballymore has already opened a hipster-friendly cafe and events space on the waterside to try and pull people into the 11.8-acre site. Over the summer it has played host to live music, art and baby yoga. It is building a total of 876 new homes, the first phase of which will comprise 300 studio, one, two and three-bed apartments starting from £369,500. Steen says The Brentford Project is aimed at “people who love to be in their home,” and the spacious show flat boasts unusually high ceilings, a range cooker and a balcony that could comfortably fit a dining table and four chairs.
In keeping with the local area, lots of the apartments will have an industrial feel: think cantilevered balconies and concrete worktops.
Ballymore also has plans for 50 new retail spaces, including a new set of pedestrianised ‘lanes and yards’ which will play host to independent retailers, craftspeople and artisans. A 15th-century church will become a ‘cultural and foodie hub’ with an open-air pool in the grounds.
John Mulryan, group managing director at Ballymore, says he wants the project to “bring fresh energy to the area in a way that honours and builds on its historic past – as well as its abundance of creativity and culture.”
Already installed on the site is classic car restoration business, Duke of London. As well as a working garage and forecourt, it also runs an events space, The Factory, which is as likely to be found hosting a supper club as it is a meet for motor enthusiasts. It will soon be offering food from Le Swine and Santa Maria Pizza, and is even set to host an event for London Fashion Week.
“I’ve lived in this area all my life, and before this there wasn’t much reason for people to venture past the Chiswick roundabout,” says founder Merlin McCormack.
There is still a long way to go – but it looks as if that is starting to change.