Whose Peckham is it anyway?

During the run up to 2010 UK general election the BNP (far right political party) posted a YouTube POV (Point of view ) video of a walk down Rye lane in Peckham, which came to be known as the “Spot The White Man” video. The intentions of this video were very clear, to tap into the growing resentment of “foreigners” up and down the country especially at election time and during economically difficult times and as a way of getting their “protest voters” out en mass. It’s likely if they had made a similar video on Friday and Saturday nights, especially recently the video may have been titled “Spot the black man or woman”, or if they had placed their camera on Bellenden road it may have been spot the working class person.

The variety of Peckham has always made a nonsense of such cheap tricks, but the notion of who “owns” or belongs in Peckham continues to rear it’s head as development/gentrification gathers pace.

licence application Frank's and Bold Tendencies

As the license application notes are plastered on the lampposts of the surrounding area, and the now familiar red canape of Frank’s appears on top of the multistory car park signalling that commencement of Bold Tendencies and the cultural events that surround it, I’m reminded of an article that asked if art was to “blame” for the gentrification of Peckham, which described Frank’s Bar and Bold Tendencies as

“a sky-high contemporary gallery in one of London’s poorest districts, packed each evening with painfully well-dressed young white people supping Campari bitters, who gaze down upon the streets of pound shops, mobile phone stalls and cheap clothes stores below.”

Some of the criticisms of the artists can be seen in the same context as the BNP video, “these new comers have come and displaced the locals” and just to make it even more confusing some of those being criticised have suggested BME (black and minority ethnic) persons are not local by the simple equation that this is England and they or their forefathers are foreigners thus reinforcing the BNP ideology. Another popular orthodoxy is that Peckham was a “shit hole” and anything done by some self declared “creative person” can only be for the good. This is until said creatives have also been priced out of the area and have had to declare Catford as the new Peckham as property developers and estate agents move in egged on by the Evening standard property porn section.

I’m slightly torn on this issue, like many I enjoy the new amenities and continued diversification of people I meet in Peckham, but in my years in Peckham I’ve never thought of it as a “shit hole” because it was lacking in “exposed brick independent coffee shops” or obscure student club nights. Before Alsop’s Peckham Library we used the oblong shed that was the Library by the Goldsmiths estate on Peckham hill street or The Civic on the old kent road. We didn’t need the Peckham pulse to swim, we went to the elephant and castle leisure center, Camberwell and to Ladywell in Lewisham (I know, another borough sacrilege!) for the water slide. We didn’t have any cool bars but we drunk in pubs and the pie and mash from M.Manze provided the “street food”.

Peckham certainly had and continues to have issues as a place to live, but people shouldn’t be under the impression gentrification has saved Peckham from some post apocalyptic mad max waste land. The overriding feeling I always got living in Peckham was one of frustration, anyone with half and eye could always see the potential especially the multitude of BME businesses and their customers who continued and contributed whilst the likes of Sainsbury’s and BHS pulled out of the area.

It’s worth noting why immigrants and those descended form recent immigrants seemingly descend on one area and make it seem like “little Lagos” as some comments from the standard article suggest. A recent BBC investigation into the rental market found Landlords still discriminating against black people wishing to rent, this harked back to the 1950’s and would go to some way to explain people congregating in places you’re most likely to find housing, places to let for business and religious purposes. Gentrification can impact on this by raising prices for the BME businesses and tenants and eventually for the artists, designers and other creative individuals and businesses. This in turn leads to politicians of the major parties favourite people “hard working families” “small business owners” and the “squeezed middle” being squeezed out by the type of immigrants who may very well be the only ones allowed into Britain in the near future, incredible wealthy individuals (The UK has more billionaires per head of population than anywhere else in the world).

Whilst I’m not expecting iceberg homes under Peckham rye anytime soon and no Russian, Indian or Chinese billionaire is likely to mistake Bellenden road for Belgravia, It’s those from “emerging markets” who presented with some CGI marketing bollocks and decided to buy off plan on some new development as an investment, pay over the odds or certainly what the average Londoner yet alone the average Peckhamite can afford that may hold the balance.

At the risk of asking everyone to gather around the fire and sing Kumbaya, chomping on the latest street food craze whilst downing campari’s and peckham pills, Peckham is for all those who have a love and affinity to the place. It’s for the nail shop technicians and the coffee shop proprietors, the social housing tenants and the city workers, the local historians and the revolutionary artists, the students and the pensioners, Those hailing form South America and Eastern Europe,Sierra Leone, St Lucia and the Saturday Millwall home match pie and mash crowd. All the various communities of Peckham would do well to remember this.

Alas Smith and Jones

Peckham Fab Lab

Peckham Fab Lab

In 1980 Peckham lost its favourite, “it weren’t like that back in the day, it was all nice on rye lane” object of rose-tinted reminiscing Jones and Higgins. It was a department store no less, which was housed underneath the clock tower. The somewhat spurious link in Smith (to get Smith and Jones) comes courtesy of the recent disappearance of the chain “booksellers” WH Smith from rye lane. My immediate concern regarding where I may be able to source over priced stationary and “celebrity” memories was replaced by a cold panic as to what may replace WH Smith. The usual one pound, hair and beauty butcher bookie phone ministries of God pawn loan hipster rave sport halal off licence is the likely to occupy the vacant shop if what litters rye lane at the moment is anything to go by. The pay-day loan and bookies have recently come under fire from local MP and deputy Labour leader Harriet Harmann who has accused bookies of “predatory profiteering” and journalist and Labour Party councillor for the Lane ward Rowenna Davis who describes her experience in a Peckham pay-day loan shop in this New statesman article.

As with woolies, the rose-tinted glasses memories of “back to school” shopping for scientific calculators, set squares and protractors that were broken in the first week of school or never used at all were replaced with memories of more recent visits full of over priced items and rude staff, well one particularly rude lady, the other members of staff were fine to be honest.

Whilst I’m not shedding to much of a tear for WH Smith, It’s noticeable that these parasite shops have also taken over traditional south London boozers which I’m slightly more saddened by, as we’ve seen the Bun house and The Hope pubs both disappear from Peckham streets. It may seem a bit odd to favour one form of possibly addictive money losing activity with another, but I believe pubs provide a better traditional social hub than pay-day loan shops. I have been known to savour a few pints in the south London boozers that seem less likely to still have the no blacks, no dogs and no Irish signs behind the bar just in case Encoh’s predictions to come of age, as you may as well know I resemble an Irish wolfhound.

It seems a touch churlish to be totally disparaging about the hair and beauty shops, the comedian Chris Rock has shown in his documentary how important “Good hair” is to African and Caribbean women. Rather than just a vanity issue, those hair and beauty stores serve an important role in “assimilation” “European style” weaves and wigs are often easier to manage day-to-day and reported by African and Caribbean women to put their work colleagues at ease as opposed to natural “Afro” , braids and locks which have “black Militant” connotations. Observing the high levels of unemployment among African Caribbean males perhaps one or two of these hair and beauty shops ought to be dedicated to “European style” hair for young African Caribbean males, causing white counterparts to feel more at ease and increase job prospects perhaps?

No doubt the bring H&M to Peckham Facebook page has been revived, but again I personally would rather a more radical use for empty shops in Peckham, I want the exciting ideas on side streets to infiltrate rye lane itself. I’m not calling for a bland deli, yummy mummy cafe gentrification cul de suc, rather a more interesting use of shops away from the chains and one pound, hair and beauty butcher bookie phone ministries of God pawn loan hipster rave sport halal off licences. Appear here is an online platform that seeks to connect retailers with spaces they can use for temporary pop-up shops, imagine the unique uses the space could be used for over the summer? I’m very taken with the notion of Fab Labs, which seek to provide the environment and the access to a range of advanced digital manufacturing technology for anyone to make things quickly and cheaply. With the advent of admittedly buzz words of the moment such as 3d printing, retail units could be providing the spark and incubation for entrepreneurs, designers and inventors. If Peckham is the new ____________(insert favourite east London area) in terms of art, perhaps we can now skip to the tech hub part. Yes you knew it was coming, Silicon Peckham is here!

London riots reach Peckham

It was perhaps unsurprising that Like Tottenham and Hackney on previous successive nights, the riots that have broken out in various areas of London (nationwide as I write) reached Peckham. Rumours had emanated from a number of sources, some shops closed early and police sirens wailed from late afternoon into the evening. I noticed a crowd of mostly but not exclusively young people at Peckham square their gazes and kino eyes of their camera phones pointing towards Rye Lane. A thin police line in full riot gear formed a barrier from just beyond number 3 Rye Lane, the old Jones and Higgins store clock tower on one side and to the pawn brokers on the other side of the road. On Peckham road in the direction leading towards Camberwell stood a small number of hooded youth. Younger boys rode through in what I can only describe as “ride by rioting” which involved randomly throwing objects whilst riding away at speed. Where the police stood their ground, the rioters dispersed, but went on to choose a new target. The lack of police numbers meant this game of cat and mouse went on for a number of hours. The controversial “kettling” police tactic would not have been effective due to lack of police numbers and the fluidity of the rioters. Some rioters had managed to break in and loot the clothing store Blue Inc located underneath the clock tower of the old Jones and Higgins store that police had earlier formed a line just beyond. Some rioters attempted to set fire to the store a few times, but luckily others extinguished it. Having seen the sad sight of the massive fire that destroyed the House of Reeves store in Croydon, I dread to think what would have happened if they had succeeded. The clock tower, albeit underused is an important building in the history Peckham.

Clothing store Blue Inc located under the historic clock tower is looted

Further down rye lane rioters looted Iceland and Clarkes factory outlet store. By the time the police had caught up some others had broken the glass of the Santander bank. It was easy for the rioters to evade the police, regroup and attack a new target, darting and diving down roads leading off Rye lane.

Clarkes  store after looters had left

Clarkes was one of stores broken into

Amongst the youths a middle aged woman urged people to regroup at Peckham police station, as she still had no answers about the death of her son after ten years. The attempted gathering at Peckham police station whether at her behest or not was met by lanes of police cars and a procession of armoured vehicles.

Armoured police cars by peckham police station

Armoured police vehicles by peckham police station

Whilst this was going on, further down Rye Lane a shop had been set on fire, helicopters paused overhead and once the fire had been extinguished the cat and mouse games continued well into the night with youths throwing fireworks at the police.

A store is ablaze along rye lane

A store is ablaze along rye lane

This was a tragic but surreal experience, amongst the small number of rioters and looters I noticed tourists amongst the spectators joking about the ammount of people that stopped to take pictures of a damaged “ATM”. In one barber shop it was business as usual, the metal grilling down but a gentleman getting a short back and sides. Wheelie bins were set alight and placed on Peckham Hill street by the library, cars and buses drove on to the pavement to avoid hitting the bins. Excited youths, a lot of them not rioting nor looting narrowly avoided being ran over by motorists too frightened to slow down or stop at red lights due to the youths running towards any “action” and running away once the police charged.

Wheelie bins were set alight and placed on Peckham Hill street by the library

Wheelie bins were set alight and placed on Peckham Hill street by the library

As night fell the Giselle boutique was broken into, a fracas developed as some girls ordered fellow rioters to return what had been taken before preventing anyone else getting in. Unfortunately this didn’t last as later in the evening the shop was again looted this time according to press reports with no restraint shown.

Crowds gather at Peckham square

Crowds gather at Peckham square

Later police are in charge at Peckham square

Later police are in charge at Peckham square, but this fluctuated during the riot

the poilce line before the looting of Blue Inc on Rye Lane

The poilce line before the looting of Blue Inc on Rye Lane

Rear-of-police-line-on-peckham-road

Rear of police line just outside Peckham Police station

The window of Primak is smashed as spectators gather

The window of Primak is smashed as spectators gather

Police stance at HSBC

"Cat and mouse" another Police stance on Rye Lane this time at at HSBC

In the last couple of day,a project initiated by Chicken Shed theatre has become the go to “something positive, feelgood story” tv news programmes ardor. The idea is to leave a message reaffirming Peckhamites love of Peckham.

Messages for Peckham

Messages for Peckham

we-love-peckham

we love peckham

Save Area 10


Southwark council are set to pull the plug on Area 10, the arts venue and former whitten timber warehouse behind Peckham Library at Eagle Wharf. I wrote about the plans circulating regarding the site for the past eight years or so in an earlier posting. We’re all aware of the current economic climate, but Southwark must not revert to type and dispose of important arts venues to fool themselves into thinking they’re saving/raising money. If I were to pop my cynics hat on I could suggest this is an inevitable part of “gentrification” as written about earlier on this blog, but it needn’t be. One can probably trace the thinking (warped in my view) of the council, with the Peckham Space a few meters away now open and the extension of the South London Gallery also now open and not to mention the plethora of galleries and studios popping up in and around Peckham, the council thought this an obvious and easy target. They must remember before Hannah Barry, The Bun House, Sunday painter, Peckham Space et al there was Area 10. The opening of recent spaces and galleries as a reason to shut down area 10 is rather like because of the emergence of Tate Modern a decade ago, It would have been ok to shut down the National Gallery! or because the national theatre moved into a purpose built space in the 1970’s it’s ok to shut down the old Vic. Area 10 serves a complimentary but different role to the likes of the Sassoon gallery and communities in the Bussey building. As a multi-disciplinary performance space it is head and shoulders above what else is available. Quite simply it is the sine qua non of the Peckham arts scene, sign the petition and inform Southwark of their mistake in trying to close it down.

Area 10

Area 10

Peckham Fire

So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places, . . .and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side . . . of the bridge.

Samuel Pepys’ Diary Entry, September 2 1666. Describing the great fire of London.

IF we may substitute the Tower for Willowbrook bridge and pudding-lane for Sumner road, but retain the way the fire leaped across buildings and spread quickly, The fire of 26th of November 2009 will live long in the memories of the people of North Peckham as the Great fire has done in all Londoners. Thankfully no losses of life or serious injuries are thought to have occurred in Peckham. Initial investigations seem to suggest some gas cylinders had caught fire on a building site, the demolished former Camberwell college of arts building on Sumner road, the resulting explosions spreading fire to neighbouring residential buildings. I was awoken by a call from some friends, and made my way to the scene. Scatterings of people lined the canal path and under Willowbrook bridge, men and women in dressing gowns and slippers, hoodies young and old, women in colourful African cloths, some others camped outside the Glengall tavern clinging to the wooden benches bolted on the pavement outside the pub on the junction of bird in bush road. They all stood in shock, necks craning towards the inferno that would tease the firefights by subsiding then flaring up again for a series of curtain calls and last hurrahs. It seemed some residents of Peckham hill street had opened up their homes to some of the more vulnerable evacuees on this very cold early morning. Some others, children, elderly people stood watching and waiting even the usually lively pit bulls and their boys stood in quite contemplation. I mingled whilst seeking my friends, “I swear brav I thought I was dreaming” some young men shared stories. “it spread so quickly” others confirmed each others experience of it. Many talked of a lady running, desperately waking her neighbours screaming fire. All huddled together against a common danger they had all escaped from, I wondered, was this, the “blitz spirit” writ large, whipped out every time Londoners face hardship. If so quite appropriate in this circumstance as the last devastation of this type in this area of Peckham was when a V1 flying bomb “doodlebug” fell on Willowbrook road in 1944.
The great fire of London forced a rethink on how the city was to be rebuilt with particular attention to layout, with the most famous plans being Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s built and of course still standing and John Evelyn’s proposals of boulevards and grand squares, eventually rejected as the city nor the King could afford the compensation the property and business owners would require for not having their structure rebuilt. I hope it’s not too churlish to suggest a rethink about how Sumner road is further developed comes about because of this tragic incident. The two estates that adorn Sumner road have already seen a share of the regeneration budgets of the 1990s. This is quite a depressing revelation, that smacks of missed opportunities. The design quality of the buildings put up in that period is quite shockingly bad, I didn’t see the plans or conceptual images the completed building would have been like on the site that caught fire but I can guess, something in the region of honey coloured bricked PVC’d windowed shoe boxes. Lets hope something positive and forward thinking and of benefit to the community is done eventually to the near by boarded up and abandoned Sumner work shop which itself has been vulnerable to spontaneous combustion in the past. We need a St Paul’s for this part of Peckham, not necessarily a church but something of quality that residents of this section of Peckham can be proud of and can promote this still forgotten side of Peckham.

Peckham Bus station

Some wonderful plans have recently being unveiled for the restoration of Peckham rye station which I’m sure every Peckhamite welcomes. The main bus station also deserves some “restoration” of sorts. It’s too late for the wonderful 1951 Wallis, Gilbert and Partners designed bus garage to have a restorative make over, having been demolished to extend what was then Safeway (currently Morrisons) in 1995. It’s quite interesting at the time the Peckham bus garage was being demolished another Wallis, Gilbert and Partners designed building the Aslaka factory just up the road in the same Borough, at Bermondsey was being converted into “luxary flats”. It’s never too late to dispose of the desperate and drab Peckham bus station or should that be Safeways bus station. It fails on every level, the bus shelters are too small to accommodate all those waiting for buses at busy periods, if it rains you’re screwd. The cabin for the drivers from the outside looks awful, depressing and small, and having peeked inside when doors are left ajar on hot days, it doesn’t look that much better inside. The minuscule windows insure a dark and dreary interior. Any pederstrians walking along Peckham high street on the bus station side have to engage in a dueling dance of death with the exiting and entering buses. This is the central bus hub for Peckham, if Southwark council are serious about a rebrand of Peckham, this is a key area. What if those who came to see Peckham library also came to see a spectacular bus station? Look at Arup Associates Vauxhall cross, Every time I’ve used this I’ve noted how much more inspiring and more importantly user friendly it is then the current Peckham debacle.

Wallis, Gilbert and Partners designed Peckham bus garage.

Wallis, Gilbert and Partners designed Peckham bus garage.

As it is now

As it is now

Cabin fever

Cabin fever

David Adjaye's Super Contemporary bus shelter commission

David Adjaye's Super Contemporary bus shelter commission

Arup associates' wonderful Vauxhall cross bus station

Arup associates' wonderful Vauxhall cross bus station

MIT's smart bus shelter

MIT's smart bus shelter

Peckham Botanical Gardens

botanicalgardens1


“My friends, Welcome to Fantasy Island.” Well, more like welcome to the geodesic dome covered Peckham Botanical Gardens to be located on Choumert Grove car park. Looking like something from a retro-future exhibition, geodesic domes were popularised by the American polymath Buckminster Fuller. His strong environmental credentials have ensured geodesic structures are the structure of choice for “alternative” communities and now for Peckham! Ok the botanical gardens under a dome, has a lot to do with the 1970’s film Silent running and of course the Eden project. This section of Southwark already boasts the wonderful Chumleigh Gardens in Burgess Park (currently undergoing renovation) and the assortment of gardens at Peckham Rye, but has no botanical “hot house” which Peckham botanical gardens could become. It could house a variety of tropical plant species, as well as a butterfly house. All in the name of conservation of course, with gift shops and cafés only a secondary consequence.

botanicalgardens2

Turning Choumert grove car park into botanical gardens will of course be an inconvenience to the drivers that use it. Having sidelined cyclists in a previous posting with the suggestion the main cycle route through Peckham should be scrapped and the canal returned; it’s the drivers turn! Pedestrians and public transport users should not worry; I’ll be spreading the love real soon. The future of the Choumert grove car park is by no means secure. The possibility of redevelopment is high, which will probably take the form of a building on the site. This also raises question as to why the multi story car park is being underused for its main purpose of parking cars. Also the Belleden retail car park remains ( at Lidl) and also the Morrisons car park. A corner of constant summer would shift some of the general misery and drabness of winter. In a perverse reverse of Joni Mitchell’s Big yellow taxi future Peckhamites would declare “They brought back paradise and dug up a parking lot” How’s that for environmental credentials! Although further study of the song in particular the line “Took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum /And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em” could be interpreted as a critique of such botanical garden schemes – Bloody hippies!

botanicalgardens3

carparksign