Chris Allen

I have many fond memories of the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. Opened in 1965, I was born a year later and lived nearby for the next 20 or so years. My first memory dates back to the late 60s and me walking with my mum or nan from our flat nearby to the Tesco to do our weekly shop. Other childhood memories include me randomly passing out in the Centre when I was maybe seven or eight years of age and my mum getting into a scuffle in the Wimpy with a woman she – rightly or wrongly, I can’t remember – claimed was laughing at her. Interestingly, I only recently found out that it was in the same Wimpy that my mum had her first date with my stepdad a few years later in 1977. By the early 80s - before shops began opening seven days a week and zero-hour contracts were invented - I was working at the Centre. My first ‘Saturday job’, I worked in the book department at WH Smith for just over two years earning £10 a day in the process. Around the same time, the Centre also helped with my dating, not least from spending my lunch breaks chatting to the girls working in the Woolworths that was next door. By the end of the 80s, I’d moved from south east London to the West Midlands. Nonetheless, the Centre was a landmark that always served to remind me that I was home whenever I visited family. In the intervening years, I saw the Centre become increasingly shabby as indeed did I. Even the now infamous pink makeover did little for its overall appearance or appeal. In spite of this – and from what I’ve read in recent months – the Centre continued to serve as an essential hub for local communities. Like it always had, it served those who lived nearby. When I heard that the Centre was being demolished, I was shocked: shocked that something so central to my early years was going to disappear. The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre was something I looked out for, something that afforded me good memories, something I took for granted. At no time did I contemplate that it might one day be gone. So too was I angry: angry that the Centre – like so much of Walworth and Bermondsey – is destined to become another private development of apartments and highly corporatized coffee shops. Deliberately pricing out local communities, the Centre will be another step in the process of social cleansing that has decimated the surrounding area for the past couple of decades. The ‘new’ Elephant and Castle will mean little to those who will no doubt parachute into the area in the coming months and years. While the Centre may have gone, the memories and fondness for the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre that I and many others have not. Gone but not forgotten. Allen.