As I walk into Mughead Coffee on 359 New Cross Road, the staff are busy baking cakes for the next day. The wonderful display of home-made brownies and cakes, sandwiches and other savouries draws you in, and the fact that food is prepared on site makes you want to try something even more. When I get the camera out, Star King, one of the owners of the business, is slightly concerned about the mess behind the counter whereas to me this is nothing more than the evidence of the baking going on. The flour stains on her apron remind of baking at home, evoking the warm memories of mum’s cooking. Upon request though, I don’t photograph the ‘mess’.
Mark and Star King are the business owners of Mughead Coffee. They love coffee and set up business in June 2017 with a 5-year lease, knowing that the area might be redeveloped in the near future. “At the moment it’s just talk and no fixed plans have been approved yet. It might not even happen and so we set up with the hope that we might be able to stay”, Star explains. The reason why they set up in New Cross is its art scene, the amount of artists and freelance workers that live in the area. “When we were looking for an area conducive to coffee shops, the Deptford and New Cross area stood out. This location here is so good – the layout of the courtyard and the fact that the buildings are set back from the road – you won’t find anything like this anywhere else”, Mark explains. With the limit of the 5-year lease, Star and Mark have not invested much money in the building itself, but they have built up a very good customer base very fast. Their customers are, according to Mark, “50% from Goldsmiths and the other 50% are freelance workers in the area.” The coffee shop was pretty much an instant success, at least in terms of popularity. “We’ve got dozens of people who come daily, with some customers having become almost family and calling the café their community hub. We know many of our customers by first name, know about their personal lives, and we’d miss the community if we had to go. It seems there really was a need for a place like this.”
The 5-year lease, however, makes the future uncertain and it carries a high risk for their business. “If the area does get redeveloped, we might not be able to find anywhere in the area within our budget. Where coffee shops are successful, the rent is already high and we need to find a balance between affordability and profitability in a difficult business climate. At the moment, we’re working towards financial ‘security’ if things remain as they are, but we fear we’ll be pushed out of here.”
When I ask Mark what he thinks about what’s generally happening in London, he describes it as an “unstoppable ripple effect”. “It is the inevitable pushing out of populations through exorbitant pricing. People who used to be able to afford Greenwich had to move to Blackheath before then being moved on to Hither Green, which is also now becoming unaffordable”, he expands. Mark and Star live in Hither Green and expect to be moved on again to somewhere further out soon. “Most of London is inaccessible to us as renters and entrepreneurs, and New Cross was one of the last areas without being out in the suburbs.”
It is evident that regeneration affects all those who don’t have the money to pay the high rates charged after an area has been developed. This applies to homes and to businesses. Currently, the buildings on New Cross parade are owned by the council which makes rents more affordable, giving some entrepreneurs the chance to run an independent business. However, once the area has been regenerated with buildings owned by private developers, rents will be so high that most current businesses will not be able to set up again.
After a while, Mark has to leave; he needs to pick up their child from school while Star remains behind the counter baking and serving customers.