Alice Jones: Sometimes, a little investment can go a long way

Some may sniff about "gentrification" but nothing of Granville Arcade's old spirit has been lost

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The Independent Online

Two years ago, Granville Arcade, in the far reaches of Brixton market, was a ghost town. A little at a remove from the bustling heart of fishmongers and grocery stalls around Electric Avenue, the chilly indoor avenues underneath the railway station stood largely empty and forlorn.

Then, in the summer of 2009, Lambeth council, in association with Space Makers (a creative regeneration agency) and local businesses and communities, took matters in hand and offered up 20 empty stalls rent-free on a three-month trial to anyone with a good business idea. If the start-ups made a success of their first quarter, they might stay on and start paying rent: everyone's a winner.

The first people to move in, as always, were artists, who organised pop-up galleries, poetry readings and performances in the stalls. A coffee shop soon followed, then a delicatessen, then a florist, then a brunch café, then a burger bar, then a vintage clothes shop, then a Thai restaurant, then a cocktail-and-tapas bar... You get the picture.

Within a year, all 20 stalls had been let to long-term tenants. The transformation has been astonishing, and for this resident, thrilling. This week, Brixton Village was named by Time Out as London's top food and drink destination, which will make the long queues at the stalls even longer. Some may sniff about "gentrification" but nothing of the old market's spirit has been lost. No one has been moved on by these young upstarts: old market-traders and new co-exist in buzzing, lucrative harmony.

Here, then, is the antidote to the doom and gloom currently enveloping the Great British High Street. The report by Mary Portas (above) for the government, published this week, revealed that every day 20 shops close their doors for good, that in some towns as many as four in 10 shops stand empty and that 50 per cent of spending takes place out of town. Brixton Village is not just a rare good news story, it's an economic model for the future - proof that even in the depths of recession, a little investment goes a long way.

* There was a jolly story doing the rounds last week about a man who left his phone in a taxi after doing a runner. The disgruntled cabbie found it and posted a status update on the errant customer's Facebook – still logged in on the phone. "I forgot my phone in the cab. And now [the] driver is teaching me a lesson by writing this post. Even though I was being an extremely rude, clumsy bastard, the driver is still kind enough to give me an opportunity to get my phone back. All he's asking is the fare I owe him and an apologising note."

It's not the first time that someone has hacked a Facebook account but it may be the first heartwarming example. Still, the word used to describe what the cab driver did makes my hackles rise. Can we please come up with a less stridently offensive term for these Facebook japes than "frape"?

* Among the many, many end-of-year lists, the Google Zeitgeist list of the UK's "most clicked" is always revealing. The most surprising revelation this year is that the most searched-for question was "What is AV?". More people, apparently, wanted to understand the alternative vote than wanted to know the answer to the questions in second, third and fourth place, namely: "What is scampi?" "What are truffles?" and "What are piles?" Presumably the list went to press before this week, otherwise: "What is the Higgs Boson?" would surely have been up there too. (Still Googling it. Still no idea). Elsewhere, Kim Kardashian was the most Googled celebrity and Nick Clegg, the fastest falling personality, beating even the 2009 X Factor winner Joe "who dat?" McElderry. Still, a win's a win at the minute, eh, Nick? The oddest top 10, though, was of website searches in which Google itself came in fifth. Who Googles Google? Now we really are in the twilight zone.