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.

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