Sometimes train stations feel like just a place you pass through, but St Pancras has always been more full of hope and excitement for me. From growing up in Sheffield, it was the gateway to London, the portal to all the noise, bustle and novelty of everything the capital can provide. Arriving in the historic, old station meant we’d arrived – fun activities must lie ahead! But that station from the early noughties feels nothing like the one you see today. Previously, it was full of the potential that lay beyond, but now it feels like a destination in its own right. Innovation and experimentation is visible everywhere.
“Previously it was full of the potential that lay beyond, but now it feels like a destination in its own right”Olie Lobo, Project Team Leader, White Space Strategy
As a child I distinctly remember completing a school project on the building of the channel tunnel – which in practice meant sending faxes (would you believe it!) to my best friend of pages from books and newspapers I could find round the house. That homework meant that when one day, many years later, when I arrived at a brand new, shiny Eurostar terminal in St Pancras, I was really excited at the prospect of the train under the sea. When you add to that glamour the magical powers of the station walls in King’s Cross, it felt like a special place.
When ‘St Pancras International’ reopened to the public, there was a real sense of excitement at visiting the new shops, cafes and bars within the station. That buzz continues today if you ever walk through the station to the sound of an amateur pianist making the most of the pianos arranged there. Since the station reopened, the real transformation has been the area beyond the station walls and tunnels. When the first few units of Granary Square opened I remember wandering past the newly created shopfronts to see that there were still empty lots, waiting to be filled. It felt like it was just the beginning, and if you peered through a few construction barriers, you could get a sense of just how much was left to create. Visiting now, the transformation is extreme.
Visiting the area again for the first time since the pandemic began, it suddenly feels like a well-established destination again. Everyone knows there are cool bars and restaurants to visit just outside the station, because everyone passes through it at some point. It’s a great demonstration of the power of the multiplier effect, and shows how quickly the feel of an area can be transformed. For future investments in our train network, I hope the transformations can be similarly powerful, and focus on areas that benefit a wide range of people.
Read Whiteboard Magazine’s feature section on King’s Cross here: what do changes in this part of London say about future innovation and growth of the UK more generally?