Peckham, the hidden town in the city

Why should we bother sitting in the classroom when we can go out, absorb some rare sunshine and discover what communities exist in places we would never normally go to. Our professors picked a place for us and sent us off on Monday morning. That is how we explored the unexplored Peckham.

After opening our secret envelope, we were addressed with three destinations: South London Gallery, Peckham Rye and East Dulwich. Just to briefly summarize, it was a MONDAY (!!!) morning, so all people in Peckham were at work. Only one type of institution is closed on Mondays: galleries! Do not be fooled, though, we were not going to give up only because of silly opening times. So I knocked and knocked and knocked on the gallery’s door until a young gentleman finally opened it. Although he would not let us in, he gave us some leaflets about what contemporary art South London Gallery (SLG) currently showcases.

Since SLG is located right next to our university, the Camberwell College of Arts, we popped in and did some brainstorming in the local café. After deciding on what to do, we fired out our questions at two students who were helping out at the Open Day and who overwhelmed us with information. Most important points were:

  1. Peckham has a very strong sense of community
  2. Bussey Building is the main cultural hub here by far.

Later in the week, in the Thursday’s ES Magazine (28/10/2016), it was confirmed by the “A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN” article, that what has been a week fan-base supporting by odd 300 locals has developed into a platform with 1,300-strong following, gentrifying the area through “artisan snacks and craft beer (pint for £3.8)” and “pricing out” the locals.  We decided to discover more to form our own opinion about this area and to find out whether we can talk about a future creative cluster here.

Walking down the Peckham St., surrounded by the home to the largest Nigerian community in the UK, we saw a number of fried-chicken shops and abandoned places. On the contrary, there were dozens of schools (UAL, Harris Academy, Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, St James the Great Catholic Primary School etc.). All of a sudden we appeared in front of the Clock Tower and heard some (irresistible) Caribbean beats, and the local Library. What a spectacular building, even though the bottom 3 floors are used by the ONE STOP SHOP and the library only “starts” on the 4th floor. You can find a vast collection of the “Black Writing” there.

Feeling like Alice in Wonderland (read Peckham Platform – another gallery closed on Monday) embracing this little village within a large city, we bumped into two Community Wardens and we spotted the chance to find out more about the community. Unfortunately, these guys were here mostly to control the level of ASB (anti-social behavior) and only confirmed what we already knew. Peckam is going through rapid changes. And we know who is behind the most important one of them. Read my blog post next Wednesday.

Equipped with google maps, citymapper and maps on iPhone, we successfully missed the cultural hub: Bussey Building. An unnoticeable narrow corridor which transported us to a completely different world. Quirky, hipster-y, colourful, clean and multipurpose-y: you can literally find anything here: co-working space, galleries, yoga, laser cutting workshop, gym, cafes, bars, music, and other little businesses which create a unique DIY community here (as well as a Facebook group).

We were lucky to get into one of the galleries (on Monday?!?) and spoke to David Charlesworth, a practicing artist who runs the South Kiosk and KitMapper, a service which allows lending and borrowing artist’s equipment, based on the principles of Airbnb. David shares the Bussey Building’s Gallery space with one other company in order to even out the rent. He started off with a 6 months’ lease which has now been extended to 2 years. He usually shows artists who use technology in their work to help them address wider issues. (Current exhibition: Emma Charles)

David loves southeast London and has it seen grow & change over the past 15 years. He engaged with us in a conversation about premium space and properties becoming more expensive which made us think: Is Peckham becoming a more popular area for the white-rich who are pushing out the Black population? It is certainly visible in the Bussey Building (BB), a growingly attractive Peckham’s destination, where there are only the stylish white hipsters setting up a start-up or taking snaps of the Oi Spaghetti’s interior for their Instagram.

Same goes with football (according to ES Magazine) the Dulwich Hamlet is called the Hipster FC, yet it uses its profit consciously on projects and people in need (the club helps in with the refugee crisis, donates to food banks and has organized its first Trade Union Day). East Dulwich seems very “pro-immigration” and “anti-homophobic”. Who will, however, stop the property prices rising and people fleeing out before the aftermath.

Bussey Building is a family owned which gives the tenant a certain level of protection and enables an easier communication. On the other hand, there is a strong focus on the tech-savvy generation who has the potential to be innovative and contribute more significantly to the economic growth than a traditional black British family which might be taking courses in the Peckham Library and going to church on Sunday but not contributing by a large enough amount to the London economy. Unfortunately, today’s era is all about making impact, mostly financially. Therefore, the answer is more than clear, the black community will soon be moving out of Peckham and the town will become only another part of the city.


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