On an overcast evening, before anyone with a decent social life has even thought about heading out of the house, the place was packed - the ambition of the project seemingly rewarded instantly. That makes this article (below) - which the Street Feast team asked us to write for their own purposes a while back - even more timely. It's our reflection on Lewisham's prospects. Some of it might be familiar to BC readers, but it's 600 words, so we're damned if we're not using it:
To grow up in this area is to grow up knowing Lewisham town is a little bit rubbish and always will be.
It’s the place that traded its Chiesmans department store for Europe’s largest police station and a place where the millennium came and went without Lewisham 2000 – the Council’s grand regeneration plan – materialising.
Lewisham’s role has been the easily-accessible bit in the middle, between the glamour of Blackheath, the artistry of Deptford and the fine residential streets of Hither Green, Brockley and Ladywell. Despite being one of the best-connected places in South East London, Lewisham remained impervious to the hipster invasion that swept down the East London Line through New Cross to Sydenham.
But something has changed. And it’s taken outsiders, with fresh eyes, to notice. Lewisham town isn’t just the nondescript place that gets in the way of more interesting things, it’s the gleaming capital of a borough the size of Newcastle – one that’s home to lush green spaces, first-class institutions, thriving communities, rapidly-improving schools and a growing number of residents with the means and desire to spend locally.
The borough is benefiting from a general resurgence in the popularity of in inner-city living, bringing with it new people, energy, ambition and spending power. People born and bred without a South East London chip on their shoulder and thrilled to be living so close to the centre of the greatest city in the world.
In the last decade or two, Lewisham has got younger (it’s now about 6-8 years younger than the national average), and richer (a recent study by the LSE found that between 2001 and 2011, the poverty rate in much of Lewisham fell by up to 9%). House prices have risen faster than the eye-watering London average, but it remains among the most affordable parts of inner London, which is why, between the last two censuses, it experienced a 30% rise in the number of residents who work in the media or culture sectors.
Lewisham has absorbed an influx of yuppies and hipsters without losing any of its power to think and act as a community: Unloved patches of land have been converted to community gardens, the summer season heaves with little festivals and when Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department was threatened, people power (and legal right) protected it.
With all of this going for it, it’s no wonder that every time someone takes a chance on our borough, it surprises on the up-side: New restaurants, markets and bars become over-night successes, new flats fly off the shelves and the new East London Line trains filled-up so fast that TfL is now scrambling to add extra carriages.
Now, finally, people are taking a chance on Lewisham town centre itself. The transformation is underway. First came Cornmill Gardens, which freed some of Lewisham’s riverside from its concrete banks and created the first bit of green space in the area where families outnumber street drinkers. Then came Lewisham Renaissance project, which itself produced the best new swimming pool in London not to host an Olympic Games. New homes and shops are flying up on Thurston Road, a new hotel is being built next to the station and even the Lewisham Gateway master plan has begun to break ground.
Enter Street Feast – building on something that has always been great about Lewisham – its market tradition.
For years, Lewisham Market has done a great job of meeting Lewisham’s shopping needs. The new #ModelMarket will serve our wants. And we want Rum Shacks, Slushy Bars and SmokeStaks. We might not actually know what they are yet, but they sound good and most of all, we want to take back the night – to sit on a grassy roof as the sun goes down over our new Babylon.
Then, we just need someone to do something about Catford…