14 February 2011

Guest Post: The changing nature of a place

Nestled deep in the urban sprawl of south London, Peckham, or as the Guardian newspaper reading, fine art painting, latte drinking, art critiquing, newest wave of fashionista residents to the area would have you believe, the cusp of East Dulwich (a more favourable description) is on the brink of a colossal change. On the one 
hand its High Street pays tribute to its gritty, working class, immigrant heritage. Whist the cafes, organic food shops, galleries, artist studios (the great sculptor, Anthony Gormley was resident of Peckham for a number of years) that line the back streets tell a different tale; one of emerging wealth, of artistic integrity, of youthful assimilation and lets not forget a little class snobbery mixed in.



My allegiance to Peckham is not born of any fondness derived from my hair raising (pun intended) antics at the multitude of salons which line the high street (interspersed only by fish shops, nail salons and wig shops) like tress in a suburban neighbourhood. Although I confess all of the above have come to form the exceptional character of the place. No, my penchant for Peckham is out of deep seeded principle over pride.

Ten years ago
London became my home and Peckham the epicentre of my personal London experience. I recall with fondness my university friends’ comments of derision (“don’t forget your bullet proof vest and your passport”. “Going that far you’ll need to be checked by an immigration officer to get back in”) as I set off from our halls of residence for an afternoon in Peckham, where no-one questioned what food I was buying/eating, or why my hair went from being short to long of an afternoon. Nostalgia aside, the reality was you’d have been excused for thinking you were on the set of Boys in the Hood (minus the Kid and Play esq hair styles) when you entered Peckham from Dulwich (one of the poshest neighbourhoods in London) or Surrey Quays (going through its own transformation at the time – seeking to attract the wealthy folk).. It was so polarised and pre Damilola Taylor (it takes tragedy to recognise poverty), a completely forgotten and abandoned place. 


Ten years on and teetering on the verge of evolution and revolution Peckham pulsates with life and singularly embraces the multi faceted human diaspora that has descended upon
London’s shores. If there is one certainty about Peckham it’s that (to quote the great Sam Cooke) ‘a change is gonna come’… again and again and again.
Looking at the award winning Will Alsop designed library and leisure centre in the heart of Peckham (directly opposite the Kumasi market, where I go and pick up Ghanaian food when my mum is coming round - and is featured prominently on many a UK ‘urban’ music video) it stands prominently on the landscape, a mish mash of colour bleeding out into the horizon. The modern flamboyant design is a stark contrast against the drab dilapidated Edwardian buildings that surround it, and yet the vibrancy, energy and eclectic mix of the people using the library compliments the building’s architecture so eloquently and completely. Unfortunately I can no longer use what is a phenomenally successful community space as I owe the library something ridiculous in fines and had to pretend to be my own (fantasy) twin sister when returning my seriously over due books and quickly scuttle away into the dead of the night, before security were called and I was escorted off the premises.

I’ve watched Peckham evolve and take hold of its once restless history, embracing the rapid cycle of change that has come to define its place in the fabric of the city.
It is now and will always be home.
Calamity Jane

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