Kingsland shopping centre is like a brilliant parallel universe

I can’t even find a recent photograph of it

London is diverse, and its character so agile and indefinable, that nothing really seems out of place. The city’s senseless make-up makes sense.

Except for Kingsland Shopping Centre, which does not make sense.

Kingsland Shopping Centre is on Kingsland High Street. It is opposite Dalston Kingsland Overground station. It is next to Ridley Road market. It has free wi-fi, and some shops offer a click-and-collect service. It has a website, where you can find store information and car parking information. This is what we know.

But Kingsland Shopping Centre is unlike any other shopping centre in London – or arguably, the world. Granted, it is similar to examples like the Nag’s Head on Holloway Road, or Butterfly Walk in Camberwell, and is a serviceable, low-rent version of somewhere like Whiteley’s in Bayswater – in that it is on a busy London road, that is also close to residential streets.

It is also similar to a suburban shopping centre – the sort that you find in one of those run-down former market towns in the Home Counties, on a high street full of pound shops – in that there is one of those stands that invites you to pick and mix your nuts (macademias, yoghurt-covered Brazil nuts, cashews, chocolate peanuts), and sometimes, there is an eyebrow-threader. Sure, there’s a Costa, and a Blue Inc, and a Card Factory.

But it is different to both the urban and suburban models. For both those are tethered to the worlds they represent. The shop selection works well and you retain your sense of place. You know that the outside world exists.

That bus could be millions of miles away

On the other hand, Kingsland Shopping Centre is a vacuum. You step inside, and you will honestly forget that you’re just nipping off one of east London’s key thoroughfares, up and down which young people in vintage Ellesse and dark jeans ripped at the knees are going about the business of being cool. Inside, you find families doing ‘big shops’ – something you remember from your non-London childhood – and a few other mystified, captivated tourists like you.

When it rains, drops thunder on the glass roof but this does not bring you out of your reverie because you’ve just spotted – you always forget this! – that at Kingsland Shopping Centre, there is honestly a shop just called ‘Fashion’. There is an Iceland – where shopping is easy because everything is a round number. There are all the different phone shops, even though everyone buys their phone online now and also they’re all on giffgaff. There is a Linens Direct.  There are currently six units to let. WHAT WILL THEY BECOME.

There’s a back exit that you’ll probably use by accident, that dispenses you in the middle of Ridley Road’s meat market, and which you cannot believe exists, because you’ve just been inside Kingsland Shopping Centre. Dalston’s police station is sort of set into its side. There’s a Sports Direct in there that only lets you try on one shoe at a time.

Sure, there’s a Blue Inc

I couldn’t even find a recent photo of Kingsland Shopping Centre to illustrate this article: that Shoe Fayre (fayre?) hasn’t been there in years. Now it’s neighboured by a vibesy healthy caff called Fed which has a chalkboard outside.

Lastly, the best seat in this holy house is on the corner of Costa, near the Kingsland Road entrance, where you can see both the people on Kingsland Road, and the people inside Kingsland Road shopping centre. It’s like you’re the only person who can see both groups – and even then, presented with the evidence, you can’t really believe that the real world of east London is going on just behind the glass.