Welcome to Peckham. A place some have never heard of, some are afraid of and others love and call their home.
A quick Google search suggests to autocomplete “Peckham” with “Peckham crime”. Google also suggests “is Peckham safe”, “Peckham Franks” and “living in Peckham” as other things people have been searching for. The results page paints a similar picture.
“11 reasons Peckham is the best place to live in London”, an article by Metro News comes up as the first search result. The top news story is “Man rushed to hospital with gunshot wounds after incident in Peckham.” So people are getting shot in this area of London but other people still want to move there?
At first this seems baffling but it’s actually part of a natural process. All of this has happened before. History repeats itself.
In Brixton. In Camden. If you type those two words into the Google search bar a forum will come up in the results. And on this forum people agree that Peckham is the most dangerous place in London.
'I would 100% agree that Peckham is becoming gentrified and I am probably part of the process.'
Peckham is becoming gentrified. In recent years young professionals and students have moved to the area. Traditionally the area is a stronghold of African and Caribbean immigrants.
The biggest change can be observed at the Bussey Building and Copeland Park. What was once an abandoned warehouse is now a creative hub. There are co-working spaces, yoga studios and an art gallery. The latter even hosts artists who work with stars like Kanye West and Adele.
Just comparing photos of the area from three years ago with photos from autumn this year is almost shocking.
Peckham’s Bussey Building in 2013 and in 2016
“We wanted to live in Peckham because it’s more fun than New Cross,” says Finola Woodcock. She is a second year student at Goldsmiths. “I would 100% agree that Peckham is becoming gentrified and I am probably part of the process,” she says.
“It’s quite a nice, up- and coming place to live” says Rebecca Savage. “It’s a very multicultural area,” the second year student adds when asked what she likes about Peckham.
Student Dayna Hughes agrees: “I really like the area.” But not all of her friends seem to share this positive view of Peckham.
She says: “Some of my friends that live in central don’t want to visit me if they have to go home after dark.”
One of the reasons many students want to move to Peckham is its strong sense of community. Communal projects and shared spaces are making the area a vibrant place.
One of the many projects that is about to transform the area even further is Peckham Coal Line. The ambitious project has been successful with a crowdfunding call and the initiators are now working to realise their ideas.
The aim of the project is to transform a small space between Queen’s Road Station and Peckham Rye Station. The derelict coal line will turn into a green walking and cycling path where people can spend leisure time outdoors.
Louise Armstrong, one of the founders of the Peckham Coal Line describes the area as “a vibrant, diverse, cultural, creative, industrious hub. A jumble of colour and spirit.“
'[Gentrification] is an unstoppable tide that people can stand and shout at but it will simply wash over them.'
Asked about gentrification Louise says: “Like many areas in London Peckham is going through acute change. New arrivals are pushing up prices, squeezing out long established residents.”
For her it’s an inevitable part of the process. An area becomes desirable and people are being driven out of it. Thinking about alternative solutions she says:
“It is an unstoppable tide that people can stand and shout at but it will simply wash over them. They can go and try and move the moon (change the system) which will require a revolution or they can get together and act collectively to build a bow protecting what they value and allowing the tide to work around them.”
And for her Peckham Coal Line is very much about the collective behind it. She sees the Coal Line as an opportunity for the people in the area to come together. It strengthens the bond and sense of community through communication. The Coal Line shouldn’t just be a cycling path but a place for people to come together.
One of the people taking advantage of the vast array of restaurants, bars and markets is young artist and marketing professional Joe Davis. He draws his favourite places in Peckham, including Mr Bao (a Taiwanese restaurant), Brick Brewery and his local pub The Gowlett.
'You can either go to West-Africa or you can go to hipster London within 20 steps.'
Joe knew that Peckham would be a special place to him from the day he arrived: “When I moved to Peckham I got off at the station and I walked to my house. When you come out of the station you have Honest Burger on your right and a hair salon on your left.
And I said to my friends: this is the biggest divide I’ve ever seen. You have all the underground hipster places on one side and then there are the more traditionally Peckham, the Afro-Carribean places on the other side.
You can either go to West-Africa or you can go to hipster London within 20 steps.”
Walking down Rye Lane with its people from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, every visitor can feel that there must be something holding these people together. According to Paula Orr, who has been volunteering for the resident-led group Peckham Vision for several years it’s the sense of community.
The people come together and found groups like Peckham Vision, the Trader Association or fund projects like Peckham Coal Lines. “The problem is, the housing prices are going up,” says Paula.
And the numbers prove her point. According to estate agency Foxtons the prices have quadrupled since 2000.
Data source: Foxtons
Paula explains: “Of course anything could be turned into housing, but actually that’s not good. Because if everything in the town centre becomes housing then everybody will be working outside Peckham. So all the dynamics of the local economy will fall away.”
In September 2015 estate agency Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward wrote on their property blog: “For example, The Brick House artisanal bakery has set up on the borders of Peckham and the Old Spike Roastery recently opened on Peckham Rye.
'In the 1920’s and 30’s this was a very elegant shopping area and the fact that it isn’t an elegant shopping area today does not mean that tomorrow it might not be again.'
But there’s still a long way to go before Costa and Starbucks set up shop in Peckham, much to many locals’ relief.”
Just this month it has been confirmed that Costa will open a coffee shop on the corner Peckham High Street and Rye Lane.
— Peckham Vision (@PeckhamVision) 18 June 2016
“In the 1920’s and 30’s this was a very elegant shopping area,” Paula says. “And the fact that it isn’t an elegant shopping area today, does not mean that tomorrow it might not be again.”
She continues: “But the question we have to ask is: at the expense of whom?”