Looking at Woolwich town centre before major changes begin

At the start of this year I wrote a round-up of forthcoming changes in Woolwich coming this year in part inspired by Crossrail. Among the usual new developments will be a change that will transform parts of the town centre, which are set to undergo the biggest changes for 25 years. Buildings and shop fronts will be revamped alongside public realm changes.

Woolwich station

With that in mind, I thought it a good time to document some of the town’s somewhat overlooked buildings and public realm.

Primark a long staple on Hare Street. Upper floors could do with  a clean and paint

I’ve plenty of photos of the town covering many years now, but few of specific buildings and shopfronts:

Public realm project

There’s two funds covering Woolwich, with one set to alter Powis Street in particular. This render gives a glimpse of early ideas:

Render released but no details yet available on project to alter Powis Street

We’re not talking penny change either, but £21 million across two funds. One is the £3.8 million High Streets Heritage project and the other £17.2 million from the Future High Streets fund.

Public realm changes aren’t imminent and we only have a few renders to go on, I rue not capturing more of Woolwich before previous changes so there’s no harm starting now to capture more of the town as it looks in 2022 before £21 million is spent.

View of Powis Street, January 2022

Powis Street has long been the bustling heart of Woolwich and seen its fair share of change and proposals over the years. Here’s a 1960s example of pedestrianisation with this view looking down towards the former co-op:

Powis Street plan from 1964

There’s were also plans for a major civic centre and shopping mall on what is now General Gordon Square. That didn’t happen.

What eventually did take place was the implementation of Powis Street as it currently appears, which is an amalgam of 1980s pedestrianisation (the red paving setts in the road remain) and later 1990s changes which removed raised planters and installed lighter-coloured paving, blue street lights and uplighting around trees which are now removed. They weren’t maintained which is a cautionary tale for any changes. Make sure they are easy to look after.

Deichmann frontage

If I recall correctly the red brick planters were also a pain to maintain and an obstacle in an area of high footfall, creating some cramped areas and pinch points.

Only a couple now remain on the extremities of the town centre:

Courtesy Google. Remnant of 1980s pedestiranisation

1990s changes had a bit of a blue theme, with lamp poles in that colour.

What has remained ever since is a sense of Powis Street still being a road, with street markings in place such as double yellows and bollards. Given it’s pedestrianised for most of the day this isn’t really needed, and I expect changes to remove such visible signs of vehicle usage for more subtle signs.

Street layout. 

Barriers across the street also restrict pedestrian movement. There’s better ways to stop vehicles.

Pinch points also remain throughout including sizable raised sections around some trees:

Raised area surrounding tree narrows pedestrian space

Advertising hoardings masquerading as phone boxes also present obstacles:

Phone box

Greenwich Council permit pedestrian obstacles. Advertising boards abound in the town:

From multi-nationals like McDonalds to small retailers, it goes against the grain of many town centres. In some places it’s not that much of an issue, though not all where the sheer number block pedestrians:

Mess and clutter not only ugly but impedes wheelchairs.

Their privatised town centre wardens do nothing to improve the situation for disabled pedestrians.

Empty units

Some large units in the centre such as the former New Look (and Littlewoods if you remember that far back) remain empty:

As does the former Argos:

Former Argos on left. Grand tower behind at Travelodge not visible

One improvement that immediately stood out when walking around on a cold winters evening is how illuminating towers on the former co-op HQ (now a Travelodge) alongside the co-op department store (now flats) would massively improve the area.

Both towers all but invisible. Could funds for building frontages include lighting?

They’re fine buildings but invisible, and not only would they look spectacular when lit, it’d act a beacon to head towards the oft-forgotten west of the centre.

While Argos and New Look left, that’s not a problem specific to Woolwich and it does attract some major brands:

 

Conservation area

Much of the town centre was designated a Conservation Area in 2019 and funding is to be spent on shop fronts and possibly building frontages.

There’s glimpses of a more prosperous past in the type of materials seen on some buildings such as Robinson & Taylor on Hare Street:

While Woolwich has lost many High Street retailers, some remain such as stalwart Boots:

Boots frontage

Hare Street has seen its fortunes improve in recent years with a number of new businesses moving in and renovations:

Hare Street

These range from a Romanian food shop, to a VR centre, gym and restaurants.

As covered in my post on Woolwich earlier this month, major housebuilding plans are not slowing down. One was rejected last year but will no doubt eventually be revised and approved, and it will link directly onto Powis Street via Murray’s Yard:

Future link to thousands of homes

So while many are down on Woolwich, a huge amount of positive change and many new residents should mean a bright future for businesses:

Housing plan near Powis Street creating new link to shops

If done well, future changes could improve Powis Street, Beresford Square and Hare Street as substantially as the General Gordon Square upgrade a decade ago, which still looks fantastic today:

Whenever I cover Woolwich a fair amount of the comments are negative about the town, which I understand (within reason). Working and visiting the area for many, many years clearly revealed its challenges and I feel authorities could do so much more, yet I remain hopeful. Forthcoming changes should do a great deal of good ,and I’ll be covering them as they’re revealed, consulted upon then implemented.

You can also view thousands of photos covering the history of the town by viewing Chris Mansfield’s extensive collection here.

 

As a private renter with a young family, the cost of living is extremely high.

Support me and the site via Paypal here which allows me to focus time on researching and writing posts alongside taking photographs to document changes. Adverts are far from enough to cover living costs.

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Thank you

John Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

11 thoughts on “Looking at Woolwich town centre before major changes begin

  • January 27, 2022 at 8:01 pm
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    Woolwich always gets a lot of negative comments on your article from people that, I suspect, don’t even live here and probably haven’t visited in years… all that for a bias these people have I won’t name here…
    I like Woolwich and personally cannot wait for the changes! I see a bright future for Woolwich.

    Reply
  • January 27, 2022 at 10:08 pm
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    New look is supposed to becoming the new temporary Job Centre in Woolwich. So I have been told.

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  • January 27, 2022 at 11:01 pm
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    Certainly the majority of the town centre is currently run down, neglected and unpleasant, but there are exciting things happening. Spray Street will be amazing, and the new leisure centre and refurbished Tram Shed will improve the feel of the square dramatically. This year (fingers crossed) Crossrail will open, so with that I’m sure we’ll see new cafes and stuff pop up around the Royal Arsenal. Hopefully the money for Powis Street will be spent wisely. Council failings are endlessly frustrating, but I’m confident the future is bright for Woolwich.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2022 at 5:04 am
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    For me, I want to know when they are going to fix and open that Woolwich Market warehouse building!

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  • January 28, 2022 at 5:53 am
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    I am looking forward to the major changes coming to Woolwich.

    .I also hope the redevelopments of Spray Street, Island Business Centre, and the new Leisure Centre start sooner rather than later.

    Woolwich used to be a great Town Centre and can be again. I would like to see shops open later during the week to help support the night time ecomony in the town.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2022 at 2:06 pm
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    I was in Woolwich only today having been given a bum steer by a retailer’s website. I walked the entire length of Powis Street from the General Gordon Square end. For the most part, the street is peppered with low value retail stores, with the bottom end consisting of boarded up and rotting shops. I walked into a building that has small units for rent and nine of them were empty. If the landlords cannot attract tenants for these tiny spaces, is there really hope for the grand plans?

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  • January 29, 2022 at 2:30 pm
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    I only discovered that multi unit “Woolwich Market” the other day. It does have an excellent sushi outlet inside but I never knew it was there. That end of Powis St is barren now that Clark’s, Argos and the Co-Op closed so attracts limited footfall.

    I do hope a decent retailer occupies the empty New Look site.

    Reply
  • January 30, 2022 at 2:17 pm
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    The bottom end of Powis Street is barren and in urgent need of regeneration and investment along with Hare Street.

    To make them more safe and attractive areas so people will want to visit.

    Woolwich is changing with so many new developments in the planning or under construction.

    Reply
  • January 30, 2022 at 5:47 pm
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    @Woolwich Resident: the Clarks’ outlet store was the reason I went to Woolwich. I don’t know how long it has been gone, but it is still referred to on Clarks’ website as is the now closed Peckham store.

    Reply
  • January 30, 2022 at 10:20 pm
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    @anonymous201481 it only closed this month I think (I remember they had a closing down sale).

    Reply

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