What didn't happen in 2016

Before I write the Brockley Central review of the year, I thought it would be worth reflecting on three things that don't appear in the 2016 round-up. These are stories and themes that were staples in previous years, but were happily absent in the last twelve months:

Brockley murder

With depressing regularity each summer, as the nights grew longer and warmer, a gang-related grievance would escalate to produce a fatal stabbing somewhere near Brockley Station or Brockley Cross. Often, this would be followed days later by a deadly reprisal.

The normalisation of spaces that were once designated drug-dealing hangouts has reduced the opportunity for conflict, while zero-tolerance policing has dispersed the gangs. As a result, 2016 was the first year in the history of the site that I haven't had to report a Brockley murder.

It may be a statistical blip, but let's be grateful for small mercies.

Grumbling about rude station staff

The comment threads used to be littered with complaints about the attitude of Brockley Station staff, who were variously described as rude, inert and generally incompetent.

By contrast, staff now regularly receive compliments for their cheer and professionalism, even in the face of massive disruption to the Southern service. New management of the station has transformed the mood and no-one who has been bid a hearty goodnight at the ticket barriers as they leave the station will ever feel the same about their commute again.

Protests about big brands

Co-Op, Sainsbury's and Costa all moved in to the area in a big way in 2016. Once, this would have triggered demonstrations, petitions and apocalyptic predictions for local independent businesses. This year, the complaints never rose above a tut.

Possibly, this is due to changing demographics, maybe the ideological battleground has shifted - but most likely it's because we've had a decade of local evidence to suggest that chains and indies can live side-by-side after all.

Vote for the best local newcomer 2016

Voting for the Best Newcomer 2016 Award is now open. Previous winners have included Masala Wala, The Brockley Deli, Brockley Market and Gently Elephant, so 2016 has a lot to live up to.

Despite much of this year's local newcomer action falling just outside the catchment area, in PLACE Ladywell, The Deptford Project, Brockley Rise and New Cross high street, the field is as big as last year's record crop, with 15 new shops, bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs vying for your votes.

Please head over to the right-hand side of the page (if you're viewing the mobile version of this site, you'll need to switch to standard view) to cast your vote for the best new local high street business of the year.

To qualify for the vote, only businesses in Brockley, St John's and Ladywell Village are counted and businesses need to have changed hands and reinvented themselves to be considered "newcomers".

This is the biggest-ever year for boozers, with an unprecedented three pubs competing with one bar and two specialist beer shops for the title.

Here are your choices:

Brickfields - hip Midtown bar
The Brockley Grill - Jerk specialist in Brockley Cross
The Brookmill - gastro pub on the St John's border
Cat Food Bakery - Ewhurst Road baker-on-demand
Co-Op - Midtown supermarket
The Copper Tea - Lewisham Way cafe
The Fat Walrus - Lewisham Way pub reimagining
Fred's - Crofton Park cafe
House of Hair - new-look Mantle Road salon
The Lewisham Grill House - Lewisham Way Lebanese
Puccini Kitchens - Crofton Park showroom
The Royal Standard - hostel takeover on Tanners Hill
Sainsbury's - The Brockley Road branch
Salthouse Bottles - East side bottle shop
Waterintobeer - West side home-brew specialist

Please cast your votes now - voting will close on January 1st.

Brickfields, 293 Brockley Road

Dark star: Brickfields is deliberately dark, inside and out
Brickfields, the new Brockley Road bar from the team behind The Orchard, launched this week and is open every night from 6pm-midnight (except Christmas Eve, when it shuts at 10.30pm).

Like The Orchard, the owners have come up with an unfussy recipe, focused on atmosphere, rather than gimmicks. Unlike The Orchard - and every other local venue that's opened in the last decade - it seems aimed squarely at 20-somethings, rather than 30-somethings. Music plays a much more central role here than in any other SE4 bar.

Outside and inside, it's dark. Requiem for a Dream-dark. There is nice detailing on the bar, courtesy of local architect Gruff, but you'll need to wait until the clocks go forward to see it properly. Not since former hippy-lounge Moonbow Jakes closed down and got replaced by the Brockley Mess has a local venue so deliberately eschewed natural light.
The elegant detailing you won't see
And it's tight. Formerly a restaurant space, it's more generously proportioned than Masala Wala, but it has had to make similarly-efficient use of space. Like a narrow-boat version of Jam Circus, it has a front bar and a quieter back room.

Brickfields brings something new to the area. An uncompromising cool that is only possible once you decide not to cater for the daytime crowd of baby buggies and home-workers. And it's another hit. Last night, with little fanfare, the place was already busy.

The Telegraph Hill booksale for Crisis

Tamsin writes:

Having a clear out for Christmas? Please donate any unwanted books - fiction, non-fiction, magazine collections, children's - to the regular fundraiser for CRISIS.  This will be held in the Telegraph Hill Centre, SE14 5TY (on the 343 and 484 bus routes and with parking in the streets nearby) on Saturday 7th January from 1pm to 5pm

All donations gratefully received.  They can be brought to the Hill Station in Kitto Road on Boxing Day (open for free hot drinks, biscuits and cake from 12noon to approx. 4pm) and after it re-opens for the New Year on Wednesday 4th January.  And you can also leave books at the Centre (open at the time of all St Catherine's church services).

Once were Tea Dancers

An application has been made to convert the empty Brockley Cross Tea Factory retail units into a two-bedroom flat.

The space has variously functioned as a gallery space, a life drawing studio, estate agent and an implausibly elaborate Tea Dance-themed childcare centre (in the days when Brockley entrepreneurs thought business plans were dangerously capitalist and the Council could still afford to subsisidise things). But mostly it's just lain empty.

These kinds of moves are usually made prematurely by landlords who haven't seriously tried to fill the units, but this site is particularly challenging and even with peppercorn rents, it has been a problem to fill. A smaller unit in the building was recently converted to residential use. This is one we can let die.

Thanks to Ed for the tip-off.

Coming very soon: Brickfields

Brickfields, the new Brockley Road bar from the team behind The Orchard. Its test-run last night went swimmingly and the public opening is imminent.

An early Christmas present for Brockley and a shot in the arm for this Midtown stretch.

Ladywell Fields cafe burgled

The Ladywell Fields cafe, run by local charity Ten Thousand Hands, has been burgled and around £6,000 of equipment has been stolen. The Evening Standard reports:

"Callous thieves allegedly broke into the Ten Thousand Hands Cafe in Ladywell Fields in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"The café, which opened in 2014, has been used to train young people including those with autism and provide a community facility."

A JustGiving page has been started, to raise funds to replace the lost items. Click here to donate.

Thank you to Jenny for the heads-up.

Lewisham: Barbed wire and roses

Owen Hatherley, a young writer who never saw a failed brutalist post-war estate he didn't live in but couldn’t nonetheless get nostalgic about, has been to Lewisham and written an assessment for The Architectural Review of the new developments taking shape. He is not impressed.

Lots of people have sent me his article, which has been passed around on social media by self-flagellating locals. So let's take a look at whether the criticisms are fair. He writes:

"In promotional images, it combines the rectitude of the ‘New London Vernacular’ with the soaring, ‘aspirational’ world of roof terraces and floor-to-ceiling views of the City skyline. Yet in Robert Clayton’s photographs, taken on the street, it looks a townscape disaster of aggressive fences and stark architecture."

To be sure, Clayton has rooted around the back of some of the buildings and found a couple of shots of unlovely walls and fences - two of which protect the fully-functioning railway track just behind them. He has also pointed his camera at some bin bags strewn around one of the local streets. That the offending street is Victorian and clearly some distance from the development being discussed, does not stop it being used as a ponderous metaphor. He goes on:

"It makes an interesting contrast to, say, King’s Cross Central – there, a long-running project was finished by serious architects working for developers held under pressure from local authorities and campaigners to unusually high standards, befitting the entry into London on the Eurostar. The entry into Lewisham is another matter."

Kings Cross, one of the biggest, best and most ambitious regeneration projects in Europe, is a high bar to set for a relatively modest development next to a zone 2 commuter station. The entire Lewisham Gateway site could be comfortably swallowed up by St Pancras station alone. He turns first to the Renaissance development by Barratt (full disclosure, a client of my employer's):

"What is clear on the ground is how pitiful the public space is. A wedge of asphalt with a sad little kids’ playground, fiercely gated in; a door inset into a blue-grey barcode facade with the sign ‘Danger: 11,000 Volts’; the ubiquitous granite setts; metal gates enclosing giant pot plants; three layers of fences between some flats and the street, planted with creepers in the hope we won’t notice."

He's referring of course to the pocket playground, set between two of the buildings. It's certainly not a place grown-ups want to linger, but it has entertained my kids plenty of times. More importantly, on the other side of the building is a large green space (complete with another, much bigger, playground) that serves as the centrepiece for this area. Facing on to this square are a newly-expanded school, a tranquil stretch of riverside, new social housing and Renaissance itself. As ever, it's what the writer doesn't tell you that's most important.

"Just behind Renaissance SE13, past a still extant retail park with Poundland, Matalan and Sports Direct, is another cluster, this time divided between two clients – housing association Family Mosaic, and American student housing developer Chapter... the [Mosaic] development is darkened by the canyon-like effect of tall blocks looming over a narrow service road, something avoided by postwar council estates, what with their green space and carefully arranged orientation to the sun."

The Loampit Vale approach and the buildings themselves are undeniably dark and the plastic-silver finish is not to my tastes, but post-war council estates (sometimes) avoided the canyon effect by building over huge, bombed-out sites, bulldozing any communities that got in their way. This development was a bit of opportunism, whose only victim was some trading estate.

"The last part is so far unfinished – the towers of Lewisham Gateway, by PRP Architects in the tripartite Vernacular style, with penthouses on the top. And that’s it – that there is the new centre of Lewisham, and that is what we’re meant to want a lot more of."

No, that isn't it. The 'new centre' hasn't even begun to emerge from the location of the roundabout, which carved the area in two. None of the new buildings being erected are intended to serve as the new centre, they are meant to act as a bridge between the station and the traditional centre, which has been in long-term decline.

The towers springing up by the station are, in my view, particularly handsome and they will sit on top of what we must hope will be some decent public space. When Lewisham Gateway is finished there is more to come. We won't be able fairly to judge the new Lewisham for years.

"Some of it – the park, at least – is passable, and it’s easy to say it’s ‘better’ than the sheds that were there before. But it makes very clear three things. First, is that the result of a numbers game is always going to be grim, with any sort of attempt at character and liveliness being fairly irrelevant."

But it is a numbers game and we have to admit that. We have huge targets to hit, simply to keep up with London's booming population. The article acknowledges and downplays this brutal fact at the same time. The Council evidently is trying to build character and liveliness into Lewisham, but to get liveliness you need people - and that's what the housing will bring. The most lively parts of Lewisham are those that owe least to the planners - the street market and Model Market. They work because they have customers. They are the product of a numbers game.

"Second, expecting that ‘more’ will mean any help for anyone other than the already affluent, is optimistic. Here, council housing was actively erased from the site, and for all the involvement of the housing associations, this place will not even make the tiniest dent in Lewisham’s council waiting list."

Lewisham is an area of high deprivation. The new schemes are a well-balanced mix.

"Third, the new vernacular, so long as it coexists with a developer-driven urbanism which sees spaciousness as so much wasted, unrentable space, means little more than politesse curtain-walled over plutocracy. If the New Lewisham is anything to go by, New London will consist of high-security, high-rise dormitories, built right into the inner city."

It is clear Hatherley wishes he'd managed to find something that he could call a poor door, but in the absence of that he will settle for loosely implying social segregation. The charge is unfounded. As for the "dormitory" label, where should we put housing if not within easy reach by public transport of two of the biggest jobs markets in the world - the City and Canary Wharf?

It's not hard to focus your camera at every overturned wheelie bin or water-stained wall and make the facts fit a pre-determined political narrative. But on a walk through Lewisham on a sunny day, my camera saw kids playing, yoga classes decanting from the gym and people having fun. No filter.

A photo posted by Nick Barron (@nickbarronldn) on

A photo posted by Nick Barron (@nickbarronldn) on

Brockley Xmas Market today

Snack Bar restaurant gets prepped

The new restaurant space being created on the site of the former 'Snack Bar' in Ladywell Village looks close to completion.

Brockley singers bid for Christmas domination

Steve writes:

"This year’s race for the Christmas number 1 spot once again involves people from the Brockley & Lewisham area - following last year’s hit by the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir with ‘A Bridge Over You’. Today sees the release of ‘The Living Years’ by The London Hospices Choir & Paul Carrack made up of 300 patients, families, staff and volunteers from 18 hospices.

"St Christopher’s Hospice Community Choir (Lewisham’s local hospice) is very well represented in the production of this single. St Christopher’s Community Choir is made up of patients,volunteers, bereaved family members of the local community.

"We’re aiming for this year’s Christmas number 1 to raise awareness of the hospice movement with every £1 from the sale of the CD single going back to the participating hospices. The single has been made with Paul Carrack who has worked with many bands ranging from Ace to Squeeze to Mike + the Mechanics. Paul sang the lead vocals on the original version of 'The Living Years' in 1988."

- Then, cleanse your musical palate with this:

Help fund a play therapy room for abused children

Mosac is a voluntary organisation supporting all non-abusing parents and carers whose children have been sexually abused. They have just moved in to Endwell Road premises and are fundraising to support their work. They say:

The building we have taken over is a former nursery, and offers great possibilities for our services, however it needs some refurbishment. We don't have the funds to buy in professional renovators, so we are trying to do most of it ourselves.

We need donations of items such as office chairs, desks, tables, toilet furniture to help us fit out the building.

We have also launched a Gofundme campaign to pay for a Play Therapy room. You can find the details here and any donations would be gratefully received.

For more information about Mosac's work, click here.

The Brockley Artists Christmas Fair, December 14

The Brockley Artists Christmas Fair this week features showcases for local talent including
Myah Chun, Sarah Gavin, Ben Gold, Ester Keate, Jiyun Lapthorn, Agatha A. Nitecka, Laura Reed and Al Turner.

The event will also feature a showcase for Brockley fashion start-up, fronte.co.uk.

Blue is the new Green is the new Orange

Jesse: It may be blue, but it's the bomb.
Tuco: Tight! Tight, tight, yeah! Oh, blue, yellow, pink. Whatever, man. Just keep bringing me that.
- Breaking Bad

Co-Ops are the new Sainsbury's. Two new convenience stores are about to open in the area.

Still rushing from the critical success of its re-brand from green to crystal blue, the company is expanding fast and has targeted this area. Finishing touches are being put on their stores in Brockley Road's midtown church conversion and a new-build by the DLR in Deptford.
Deptford Bridge
I have never quite forgiven them for the irredeemably bad Co-Op that I relied on as a student or for the lousy Co-Op in Crofton Park, but the group seems to have got its act together in the last couple of years and the new retro logo sure is pretty.

Ladywell Playtower to be reopened in 2019

Lewisham Council has committed to restore Ladywell Baths, the derelict Victorian building sometimes known as The Playtower.

Following pressure from the Ladywell Village Improvement Group, it has now published a timetable for the project, which aims to reopen the building in the second half of 2019, at a cost of £4-5million.

Expressions of interest from developers will be invited in January 2017 and a winning bidder will be selected by March.

The Ladywell Village Improvement Group commented:

"The Council's has, over recent years, signally failed to make committed effort to safeguard the future of this building, despite the significant ongoing costs to the Council Tax payer.  So we are pleased to see that a clear process is in now place and hopes the this results in good schemes which include at least some element of community access/use.

"This might include a mix of some of the following - restaurant, bar, cinema, theatre, community office space, fitness/leisure facilities - though doubtless other options exist!"

Honor Oak sold to Laine's

Pub group and owners of The Ladywell Tavern and The Old Nun's Head, Laine's has bought the lease for the Honor Oak pub from the current owners the Camden Dining Group. I don't know what that really means, but a proper journalist who knows about beer reckons it's good news.

Port Masterclass at the Brockley Deli

The Thinking Cinema

Daniel writes:

The Thinking Cinema is a philosophical cinema specialising in showing intelligent and thought-provoking documentaries, art films, and fiction films from around the world. The cinema aims to help us understand how we exist in relation to one another. It will also exist as a space for thinking to take place, for conversations and talks, seminars and lectures.

The cinema will launch at 6pm Thursday 15 December with a free screening of Gun Nation by Zed Nelson (30min, 2016), introduced by the director.

Housed in the Good Hope café (run by the charity For Jimmy) at PLACE/Ladywell on Lewisham High Street, the new non-profit volunteer-run community cinema has 30 seats, a surround sound system, and a 4-metre wide screen.

To become a free member simply email info@thethinkingcinema.org.

Midtown Co-Op opening December 15

The Co-Op community engagement officer has confirmed that a new store will be opening on Brockley Road in the Midtown area, near Adelaide Avenue.

"The store management and colleagues have been working hard to get the store ready to open to the community on Thursday 15th December."

The Walrus Enclosure

Howard Howe: The walrus is far more evolved than any man I've ever known. Present company included.
- Tusk

The Fat Walrus pub (44 Lewisham Way) has built one of the wonders of Greater Brockley. A winter palace to make Peter the Great weep with envy.

Bomull Press Christmas Cards

Myah writes:

We are Bomull Press based in Brockley.

We have some cards and posters all designed here in our studio and riso-printed in Hato press in Hackney. Last year we produced some Christmas cards for all Brockley and broccoli loving people.

We’d like to offer the readers of Brockley Central 30% discount when they purchase any items in our web shop.

Use code : CHRISTMAS when you checkout.

Lewisham makes baby Jesus cry

The Crofton Park Christmas tree has been swaddled in traffic management barriers, much to the chagrin of local residents on Twitter. Trees in Ladywell and Catford are reportedly even more silly looking.

Lewisham Council: If you have so little faith in your citizens that you don't credit them with sufficient Christmas spirit to avoid violating a conifer or sense enough not to crash into one, then just don't bother.

As a society, we either need to take a leap of faith and trust that the trees will be fine without plastic protection or we need the creativity to find another way to bring festive joy to our streets.

As Dave reminded me on Twitter, in 2015 a Lewisham Christmas Tree was branded the UK's saddest.

Via Facebook, Emma has shared this tragic Christmas scene from Ladywell.

Ladies and Gentlemen: We got him

Able was Howard ere he saw Brockley. We have accomplished what Jeremy Paxman never could. We have taken down the kingpin. The Mail reports:

Former Tory leader Michael Howard has been convicted of failing to say who was driving his car when it was caught by a speed camera [on Lewisham Way].

Lord Howard, 75, and his wife Sandra, 76, both claimed either could have been driving their Toyota Prius, which was clocked at 37.3 mph in a 30mph zone.

The former Home Secretary was fined £900, with £625 costs, plus a £90 victim surcharge and received six penalty points on his driving licence.

Thank you to Monkeyboy and Joe (not a double-act) who sent me the link.

In the South

Good Hope Ladywell - Opening December 8

The charity, For Jimmy, set up after the murder of 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen, is opening a new Good Hope café at PLACE Ladywell in Lewisham; six years after opening Good Hope Hither Green.

The new café will continue to support the work of For Jimmy, with 10p from every £1 going towards helping young people build Safe Havens across Lewisham. These are places young people can turn to when in danger or feeling threatened on the street. Both Good Hope cafés are flagship Safe Havens, alongside Lewisham Shopping Centre and many other businesses across the borough.

The charity will be running the café and a community cinema that is based at the rear of the unit. Lewisham central has been without a cinema since the last one closed on Lewisham High Street in 1986. The 40 seater cinema is a welcome addition to the local community, and will also double up as an event space for use by community groups and organisations.

For Jimmy also partner with Drumbeat School and ASD Services to provide personalised placements for young people with Autism, enabling them to experience the workplace and acquire a range of essential skills. The café offers a fantastic new environment for those young people to experience and work within.

An official opening party is being held on 8th December, for the local community to see the space and find out more about how it will support For Jimmy moving into 2017. The launch will run from 6-8pm, alongside the grand opening of PLACE / Ladywell.

Margaret Mizen, MBE, mother of Jimmy, said: “We are very excited to have opened another Good Hope café and can’t wait for the community to make use of the cinema and event space. When we opened the first Good Hope in Hither Green in 2010, we could never have imagined how fast the charity would grow and just how many young people would hear Jimmy’s story. The profits will continue to support our work building Safe Havens across Lewisham and spreading Jimmy’s legacy of peace across the UK.”