OKR Studios and Glengall Wharf Gardens

The summer season at the Peckham multi-storey car park is well underway with it’s usual mix of visual arts and music, not to mention the ever-popular Frank’s Cafe on the roof. Joining this annual car park love-in this year will be the events in the car park of the Ledbury Estate. This is one of the more interesting regeneration projects in the Peckham area. It’s not specifically focused on art or artists but more on workshops and studios for a range of creative, cultural and business based practitioners. This is in the “wrong “part of Peckham as it’s not by Peckham rye station or the well-known Bussey building, it is by the Old Kent road, which if the proposed Bakerloo line extension ever comes to fruition will probably become a heightened area of development. Southwark council already have a master plan of sorts for that area with their proposed Old Kent Road Opportunity Area with the dissent being currently led by Vital OKR, who describe themselves as “a voice for the economy of the old kent road”. The Old Kent Road Studios (OKR) project has come about due to the efforts of social entrepreneur Nicholas Okwulu of the Pempeople project and Ulrike Steven of what if: projects and with a variety of backers including the Mayor of London, Spacehive, Southwark council, Airbnb and crowdfunding.

As mentioned, this is one of the more interesting projects in Peckham at the moment, an example of how seemingly outlandish arts based ideas can influence community projects and vice versa, I very much doubt this would have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for the success of Bold Tendencies at the multi-storey car park in Peckham town center.

The aftermath of the tragic Glenfell Tower fire tragedy in West London has rightly raised questions regarding the safety of high rise blocks. The blocks on the Ledbury estate have recently come under scrutiny with local news reporting on safety concerns and the possibility of a Ronan point type catastrophe (in which a high rise partially collapsed following a gas explosion, killing five people in 1960’s East London) in the event of a gas explosion. This is an ongoing situation, which will hopefully be resolved with the residents having safe and secure homes.

Glengall Wharf Gardens.

Following the path of the old surrey canal down from Peckham square, all the way passed willowbrook bridge and way down to Glengall Wharf, you’ll come across a site very familiar to the reams of commuter cyclists as they wiz by on their way to and from work, Glengall Wharf Gardens. The garden is a cornucopia of delight, promoting the sustainable growing and understanding of fresh and healthy food, as well as beekeeping and arts based events. Well worth a visit and if you fancy getting involved they’re always looking for volunteers.

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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.

saveArea10

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.

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!

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

PECKHAM CANAL

PECKHAM-CANAL-1

The Peckham branch of the Grand surrey canal was completed in 1826, linking Peckham through Surrey quays to the river Thames. It was drained and filled in 1972, to “eliminate the danger of people falling in and drowning” according to the blurb on the information board by Peckham square. This is as amusing as digging up roads to “eliminate” the danger of people being run over. These days the biggest danger that requires elimination is when one walks the park path of the former canal and is confronted by persons with dangerous looking dogs they seem barley able to control, or being nearly run over by speeding cyclists that haven’t worked out how to use their bell and breaks. The only solace to the abused walker being when occasionally a cyclist is ensnared and entangled in the lead of a dog walker and all manner of amusing blame game “discussions” occur.

To eliminate such dangers I propose the reinstating of the Peckham branch of the Grand Surrey canal. This would not only shift the dog and cycle danger but also add another public transport hub since the tram and south London line seem to have been shelved. It would also provide an effective link between the “regeneration” of Peckham square and the north of Peckham “regeneration” which has seen the transformation of the main estates but nothing of any great excitement and inspiration in terms of the physical environment. I have stated previously of Southwark council’s obsession with Peckham square as the heartland of all the arts and entertainment as exemplified by the Peckham space development due in November. One of the partners of that scheme is Camberwell college of arts who closed down their annex on sumner road neighboring the North Peckham estate, which I believe is a missed opportunity. Why on earth was Peckham Space not placed on that site? I can think of two pubs that have lost business from the staff and students of that annex. At a time when the arts need to engage more with places like the North Peckham and Gloucester grove estates it’s a shame Camberwell college has decided to barricade its self in an “arts ghetto” in Peckahm square. Enough of the mini rant for now, the canal can link Peckham square with north Peckham through the commercial way and willowbrook bridges, then to Burgess Park and beyond. We could have a touch more imagination in shelter as house boats and barges come into play.

peckham-canal-willowbrook-bridge

Below, the former Camberwell College of Arts annex on sumner road neighboring the North Peckham estate (shown in the background). It has been demolished, making way for a housing scheme I believe.
SUMNER-ROAD

And Design


D-FOR-DESIGNIn the midst of show after show of art and warehouse after warehouse succumbing to the charms of fine artists in Peckham, design remains noticeable by its absence. It seems design has taken up its usual place, playing second fiddle to art as it does in “Art and Design”. Where is the design? Where was the “Peckham pavilion” at the Milan furniture fair? Where is the Peckham branch of new designers? How many off-shots of London fashion week shows in the Bussey building? A curious state of affairs since arguably the catalyst for the current Peckham creative explosion was not a sculpture on the roof of the multi-story car park nor a painitng in a warehouse, but a piece of iconic design. I am of course referring to Peckham Library the most photographed and written about building in Peckham if not this side of the river. At its best design can captivate and stimulate as well as fulfill that common design student self delusion when asked why they wish to become a designer “to solve problems”; as opposed to becoming rich and famous which is probably closer to the truth of the matter. This was what was on Neville Brody’s mind in a recent interview.

Brody suggests over the past twenty-five years design has been in hibernation under a “great freeze” and that the graduates that have emerged are a “comfort and prestige generation.”

There’s no social contextualising at all going on. It’s about income and exposure.

The ongoing economic crisis has ended this compliancy, for the better according to Brody:

Well, the collapse of the economy does two things: it says that you’re not guaranteed that [income and exposure] anymore; and suddenly there’s a window of opportunity – I think the deep freeze has thawed.

This of course is not totally the fault of design students, the design industries are obsessed with constantly proving their economic value to business and the economy at large, as opposed to challenging the status quo and “solving” any problems. One shouldn’t really blame them I suppose, as the first thing to be cut during economic hardships is usually the design budget, which produces a fearful and eager to please design industry. With the cost of loans for further education and the government’s simplistic equation of university education = high wages, it’s no wonder the “comfort and prestige” mentality has persisted.

Perhaps a few design squats are in order, especially for fresh young things. Lettice Drake and Paloma Gormley are holding the end up for architecture with the campari structure to go along side the Bold tendencies exhibition, but where are the other design disciplines? Instead of trying to persuade H&M to replace the woolies as a recent facebook campaign unsuccessfully did, what about some young fashion designers taking over the whole space and unleashing their collections on the Peckham public? What would a great typographic solution have been like to the “I love Peckham” banners as opposed to artists Madeline Herbert and Leah Germann’s work? How much further would a talented product designer have taken the notion of street furniture, bollards and lampposts?

As Peckham library has proved, a great piece of design can have a huge influence on an area, it’s unfortunate Peckham has fallen out of love with those who can produce design. With an area associated with a number of “problems” they should be quite a lot for keen designers to “solve”.

I shall conculde with a few more choice words from old Nev:

The idea that the work we were doing could help change society, could help society for the better, and what we were doing wasn’t really about developing careers or ways to make money.

For twenty-five years graphic design has been purely commercial, and finally we’ve reached a place of amazing possibilities again. The elite systems that Regan and Thatcher put into place, which were the banking system and the major success of wall street and the city of London, those belief systems have collapsed in many ways, politics is different now the world is different now.