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!