Save Peckham…….(append with favoured local landmark)

Barring some Millwall FC versus Lewisham council controversy, by the time most people read this, Peckham Arch, the canopy that has since 1994 crowned the head of Peckham Square will be either no more or in the process of being torn down.
A save “Peckham arch” campaign is in full swing with the accompanying online petition and twitter handle. My pessimism about the success of the save campaign is due to a previous campaign regarding a building quite near Peckham square, Area 10, the arts venue and former Whitten timber warehouse behind Peckham Library at Eagle Wharf.


Area 10 was demolished in 2010 and building work has only recently commenced on the Mountview theatre school, which is due to open soon on the site, more on this later.

Peckham Arch’s 35m span has crowned the head of the Peckham branch of the now filled in Grand Surrey Canal in South East London since 1994. With Peckham Library and the Peckham Pulse Leisure centre it is one of the forerunners of purpose built regeneration projects in the area.

The prosed replacement for Peckham Arch is housing, specifically 19 flats. In a city where housing and especially public housing is in crisis, it would seem somewhat short sighted to be critical of any schemes providing new housing in Peckham, however looking at the scheme replacing the arch, of the two four and six story blocks comprising of 19 flats in total, only six flats will be available for social housing renters the others shared-ownership and private flats. It seems “affordable/social rent units” are again the Trojan horses for a higher number of private rented accommodation on the site. The Co-design (a process instigated by Southwark council with the aim of “bringing communities together to shape the future of Peckham Square”) participants were apparently led to believe a total of 100 flats would replace Peckham arch and the final decision seems to have sidestepped this process of inclusion:

“Claims were made during the “co-design” process that removal of the Arch could make way for 100 homes to be created surrounding the square. The proposed scheme consists of 17 flats, four of which are to be council homes.”
“the crucial decision to remove the Arch and develop the square for housing was taken by councillors outside of the “co-design” forum after only a handful had been consulted. An independent report on learning the lessons from “co-design” in Peckham criticised the process for lacking clarity in the decision-making process and failures in developing community trust.”

Peckham square currently has a vibrant mix of Peckhamites using it and by rights public land. A private housing scheme on the site and by extension a privatised square may in future lead to “banning” of certain people deemed “undesirable” or activities such as protests deemed too “noisy” also being banned. The predominance of faux public space has increased in London of late, from Canary Wharf to More London, places that draw a large number of the public but are in fact under private ownership and thus subject to the whims of those private owners.

Major building and developments in London appear filled with public space — Canary Wharf, or More London along the south bank by Tower Bridge, for example. But this is all private land, where public access is a privilege that can be revoked at any time.

Coming across as the Svengali to Southwark council’s Trilby (or the Del Boy to the Council’s Rodney if you prefer) Carl Turner of Carl Turner Architects, the firm behind the housing scheme proposal for the Peckham arch site and also the Mountview School behind Peckham Library, and also Peckham Levels suggests:

“Removing the arch will allow the square to breathe.”
“We think overall, it’s quite an insensitive, brutish, modern thing that was dropped into a historic streetscape. We also discovered that about six Georgian buildings were knocked down to build it.”

I’m sure regular users of the square and arch would disagree, as noted by Daisy Froud of Ash Sakula CoDesign Team:

“Peckham Square is alright actually”. That’s me! In previous stages of this project, I have often been told that Peckham Square is an example of Poor public space: big, open and not as well used as it might be. But everybody we spoke to this time thought it pretty good, sometimes for those very same qualities: you can sit there, with space around you, with good long views, and just watch the world. Its situation close to residential areas, and its distinctive architecture, made it a place that was valued (i) as an extension of home, (ii) for bumping into people you knew, and (iii) for meeting people. “It’s a place with a clear location where you can tell someone you will be, or to come and meet you, especially if they don’t know the area”. The landscaping gets children and skateboarders playing, there are plenty of places to sit, and the table-tennis tables are usually in use. Kids gather there after school. “You can be Coming from anywhere and you can sit down and look and relax. Not everyone can go to a shop to eat or relax.” In contrast, Holly Grove Shrubbery, which I am used to hearing people praise, was twice named as somewhere that felt dark, unsafe, unwelcoming and that offered little of interest to sit and look at.”

The save Peckham arch campaign can be followed on twitter. For a fascinating use of Peckham square the video of Amalia Pica’s “Asamble” at Peckham Square is highly recommended.

Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in Peckham

A while back I wrote about the Eagle wharf site behind Peckham library, describing the former occupant (Area 10 as it was known then) as the sine qua non of the Peckham arts scene. Following the failure of the proposed schemes by Baylight/Hudson Featherstone and a rival scheme by Peckham Library architect Will Alsop/Urban Catalyst, and after lying dormant for six years work has finally started on the replacement for the site formally occupied by Area 10 and Whitten timber before that.
We’ll never know what we missed out on in the six years the site has been lying empty. We do have coming to the site in 2018 however, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, watch the glossy promo here.

“On 28 September 2016 Southwark’s Planning Committee voted unanimously to approve our planning application.
We intend to start building work early in 2017 and Mountview in Peckham will open to public and students alike in September 2018.
The four-storey building, covering 95 square metres of land, has been designed by Carl Turner Architects. The Academy will offer undergraduate, masters and foundation-level qualifications.”

Construction underway for Mountview at Eagle Wharf behind Peckham Library

Following recent laments regarding the dearth of high profile working class actors in contemporary Britain from the likes of actor Julie Walters, the establishment of a school focused on a let’s face it, very middle class and very white profession, raises questions of engagement with the mostly working class and minority ethnic communities of Peckham.
Such criticisms seem to have been addressed by “Mountview’s commitment to diversity” and that “Mountview will really help local residents” according to Cllr Mark Williams the council member for regeneration and New homes (who doesn’t go into much detail about how this could be achieved in the promo video). Some of the elements from the stalled Eagles wharf development have remained including the studios and rehearsal spaces, which will apparently be available for hire at a discount rate for the local community.

Training facilities will be in use by the academy during the day and available to the public in the evenings, weekends and holidays. Charities and community groups will receive discounted room hire rates.
Public activities will include weekend and evening performance classes for young people and adults, apprenticeships and volunteering opportunities and high quality, affordable fitness and wellbeing classes. Local residents will receive discounted tickets for Mountview productions in the two theatres throughout the year.

What haven’t remained from the earlier project are the proposed 46 residential units, which seem to have been watered down to 19 then tacked on to the near by Peckham Arch project instead. The use of facilities by the local communities should be seen as the most basic provision, how else can Mountview engage? The royal court run a series of Theatre local workshops a few years ago, or perhaps scholarships and a deeper engagement with the local populace especially with “da yoof dem”, not just acting but the business of theatre, of television and film. Training and unleashing the next batch of Theatre Peckham alumni John Boyega or award-winning playwright Bola Agbaje or filmmaker Adeyemi Michael is the way to go.

Peckham Levels

With so many fingers in the Peckham pie, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Carl Turner Architects are overseeing the coming Peckham Levels, which will be a workspace venue built within the shell of the multi-story car park. Due to open in August, blogger The SlumFlower and Gaup Magazine give a tour here.

7 levels of a multi-storey carpark, transformed into more than 90,000 sq ft of creative workspace, events and exhibition space and food, drink and community space.

Exteriors of Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park, soon to be Peckham Levels

The winning bid to transform the space came from Makeshift (in conjunction with Carl Turner Architects) the team behind Pop Brixton, who describe themselves as:

“Make Shift transforms underused urban space to unlock opportunities for local people and independent businesses.”

The unsuccessful bid (Bold Home)coming from the Hannah Barry Gallery, the team behind Bold Tendencies and arguably one of the earliest instigators of the current art led regeneration of Peckham and the use of the car park as an arts venue. It’s worth noting under the Hannah Barry Gallery plan; the site would have housed 800 studios with cheaper rent as opposed to 50 studios and “retail space” from the winning entry.

“We’ve already proved there is an enormous audience for visual art in Peckham,” Barry says. “We can bring in new people, new voices, new money.”
“There will be light industrial spaces, studio spaces and we’re very keen on Kunsthalle-style [independent] galleries.”
We see Bold Tendencies as a conveyor belt giving people the first opportunity to step up and do their own project,” says Sven. “Then they take that energy with them and do something new.” It’s a spirit you have to admire.”
“Artists in residence would have had to pay just £100 in rent a month, and they claim the plans would have supported 2,500 local jobs — compared with the 600 generated by Pop Collective’s proposal.”

Despite appearances, the future of the multi-story car park is not secure. The new Southwark plan suggests a redevelopment consisting of 83 flats. Peckham Levels has a lease due to expire by 2022 the latest, I rather suspect the Save the multi-story car park campaign has already began as Eileen Coon of Peckham Vision suggests in this London Live interview.

It would seem the Bold Home plan would have been of a permanent nature whilst the winning plan, with it’s chipboard walls is ready to be packed off once 2022 comes round. Not even having three of the most popular attractions in Peckham is likely to save the multi-story car park. The popular Peckhamplex cinema is also contained in the multi-storey car park and faces a similar fate to the other attractions in the venue.

Peckhamplex, in Moncrieff Street, may face demolition if plans proposed in Southwark Council’s huge development plan for the borough goes ahead.
The iconic cinema, housed in the same multi-storey car park as popular summer hangout Frank’s Café, charges under £10 for all tickets.

The clear conflict is southwark council’s 35% affordable housing target, which is important and commendable in an atmosphere where social housing has become an outmoded idea, but in the current climate “affordable housing” is one of those phrases that get wheeled out as a means of pushing through controversial plans that are subject to change once those plans have been approved, as happened on the Exchange development in Bermondsey, the area in Southwark next to Peckham by Notting Hill Housing Trust:

In their ‘The Exchange’ development in Bermondsey they promised 44 social rent homes but after planning permission was approved they changed these to the ‘affordable rent’ category, a sleight of hand that was signed off by The Council themselves. With such underhanded tactics, tenants on Aylesbury are concerned that the promised social rent homes in the regeneration will be also whisked away at the last minute, just like the broken promises at Heygate.

A government-planning inspector was also unconvinced regarding the case for the proposed housing on the site, which you can read about here. Making use of existing buildings and spaces is the essence of the Peckham arts scene, demolishing this unique space for the usual cgi rendered “retail” and “housing units” with some minuscule“Studio/workspace units” bolted on would be a huge error. Southwark council must ensure a lasting legacy for the multi-storey car park and it’s various occupants.


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.

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

Art huh, yeah what is it good for?

NO-BALL-GAMES-PECKHAMI believe it was Edwin Starr who so eloquently sang “Art huh, yeah what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Good God, what is it good for! Absolutely nothing! Say it again, y’all! Err……Sorry that’s War not Art, simple mistake both have the letters A and R in them… moving on swiftly. It would appear, Peckham now pronounced (PEE –CAM) is now the official up and coming, already arrived, trendy, urban art hotspot! This level of artistic excitement has not been witnessed since William Blake consumed those funny mushrooms on Peckham Rye and was visited by the Prophet Ezekiel. This is similar to what happens to me. The exception is I grow a Jheri curl and quote from Ezekiel 25:17 whilst contemplating the difference in cheese quality from burgers from around the world. I really must avoid meat items from some of those dodgy butchers on rye lane, great vengeance and furious anger indeed. Anyway all manner of trendster outlets and publications have hailed Peckham as a cornucopia of artistic pleasures. If media reports are to be believed, Peckham is a gluttonous mass of artists being constantly stuffed to bursting point by the loving but abusive feeder/enablers of Camberwell college of arts and Goldsmiths college graduates. The “wafer-thin mint” that may cause Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life- The Autumn years” like consequence to Peckham’s inflated form being provided by London college of communications and Central saint Martins graduates.

A lot of this has to do with the spectacular response to the Hannah Barry gallery’s Peckham Pavilion at this years Venice biennale. However they’re not the only show in town. Area 10 on the site of the former Witten Timber yard, has been around since 2002. Auto Italia southeast at the former fiat showroom and garage on glengall road just off the old kent road has recently arrived. Not to mention the Anthony Gomley bollards, the Sassoon Gallery under peckham rye station arches. The artists in the Bussey building, The chronic love foundation In fact big shout out to all the others setting up and preparing to take their places in the pantheon at a latter date, word is born, Underdog art Company and Nolias gallery on old kent road…. word is born! Right, quite enough of that then. It must be boom time for warehouse proprietors.

I’ve observed a tri-partite approach, to how artists operate in Peckham. We have what I would term as the new age/anarchist/squat which I will call “squart” the more traditional art school to warehouse to international fame and fortune artist, which I will call “celebart” and “Pubart” public art which involves the artist having close links with the council, community involvement and collaboration such as the “I love Peckham festival” Of course crossovers can and do occur across the groups. Hannah Barry was part of the Lyndhurst way squat before embarking on her own gallery on Copeland road. Celebart seems to be engaging the formal art world, whilst Squart seems to be attempting an alternative lifestyle. All these are of course crude methods of classification, that would probably lead to those being classified insisting they and their work is unclassifiable. It seems Southwark council are more accommodating of celebart and Pubart then they are of Squart. It’s no surprise as celebart is more media friendly can reinvent and rebrand an area, something Southwark has been trying to achieve with Peckham for some time. In a similar vein pubart is seen as a form of “social regeneration” that accompanies the “honey coloured” bricks and “affordable units” Springing up everywhere.

This has been very good for Peckham in terms of positive media coverage, and good for celebart as those involved are seen as being on the vanguard of contemporary British art and embracing an “edgy”, “dodgy” area. Not so good for Squart as exemplified by Spike Surplus arts and community centre which was closed down in February as the council wish to sell the land to developers. Also not so good for pubart in difficult economic climates and impending spending cuts which will no doubt decimate arts budgets. This arrangement, as alluded to earlier is also good for developers who will in turn “develop” more properties in cool PEE-CAM, with only lip service paid to a couple of “affordable” units and “key worker” units and the rest being sold for extortionist prices the moment the market picks up once more. This is an interesting conundrum in terms of “legacy”. That’s right I’m getting all Olympics on your ass. Will the unintended legacy of celebart be gentrification? That is difficult to say at this stage. My particular take on legacy is following on from the recent Alan Milburn report regaurding social mobility or lack of it in Britain. Now I’ve not met ALL the artist plying their trade in Peckham but I’m willing to wager, barely one of them has been brought up in the area. If they have, they will likely to have been residents of the Bellenden regeneration area, as opposed to North Peckham or Friary estates for example. I’m not suggesting only artist from a particular area should be working in that area. I’m merely concerned about how to bring into existence the next generation to make the art world stand up and take notice can also be from North Peckham, friary and Aylesbury estates. The social mobility report concentrates on certain professions such as medicine, law, Journalism and the civil service. I’m willing to wager a similar story in terms of the number of independently schooled persons in the creative industries and in particular fine art. I’m not suggesting every artist living in Peckham should be made to participate in patronising “art” projects with “disadvantaged kids”. I am not suggesting ALL arts projects involvong “disadvantaged kids” are patronsing, or that such kids should not be engaged in art. I’m suggesting quite the opposite. How do you get the next generation of Peckhamites to be the producers as opposed to being the canvas ready to bear the marks of broad brushstrokes wielded by others.

Nobody is denying the hard work and sacrifice some of the artists have had to endure, for example the 78 Lyndhurst Way squat apparently at times lacked basic amenities such as water, electricity and was rat infested. This in a way is the romantic view of the life of an artist, the penniless vagrant with the exception being non of the present day crop expect to die in poverty and obscurity and have their work discovered by a later generation. Being on minimal benefits and living an extended “student lifestyle” has become a certain rites of passage. The current arguments about unpaid internships apply here also, Coming from a less connected less wealthy background, the need for income impends itself earlier. Also a world of difference exists in perception between someone from a working class and or minority background being on benefit to someone from a more affluent background. Ultimately creativity requires time and space; it is a tremendous risk for persons not from a particular background to enter this field. The invention and sacrifices these young artists have shown is admirable, but ultimately depends on incorporation into the mainstream, I have no doubt young people form less affluent and minority background can show the same level of inventiveness and sacrifice, the eventual access to the mainstream is where it all falls down.

I’ll leave you with some interesting quotes from artist and film maker Steve McQueen, the official artist for the British pavilion at this year’s Venice biennale, made before his 1999 turner prize win:

He has said in the past that he has had a better response in the US than he has at home.

”Maybe because black artists are more noticeable over there and gain a broader acceptance,” he said in one interview.

Also on receiving the Carl Foreman bafta for his mainstream film directorial debut Hunger:

I just wanna say to my mum, you were right one has to work twice as hard”