Monday, 29 December 2008

The End?

I can’t actually believe it. The whole court thing was such a shock.
It was just after our decision to give ourselves a short winter break… it’s been a stressful year after all. People had gone to visit family. I was one of the few left behind the day we found the notice for a possession order stuck to the gate. This was shortly followed by 14 envelopes containing the same information for an assortment of previous caretakers. It was the first contact we’ve had with the Council for quite some time. We quickly got together a proposal for them to try to avoid taking it to court... 15 grand up front and the rest with the full amount to be paid up within a year. With Triodos Bank (Positive Ethical Lenders) still considering loaning us the money, it was the best we could do. It was, in the words of the Council, “utterly rejected”. We had 2 days to get our defence together. It was apparently to be a 15 minute hearing. We asked for an adjournment. A group of us and our solicitors got to the court to find a 2 hour wait. When we finally got in there the judge declared that we’d continue through after lunch to get it over and done with. My gosh. It was horrendous. The first half hour was a painful discussion about leases and licenses. It all felt so far away from what it was actually about. By lunchtime we were feeling hopeless and powerless. Thank goodness Rik managed to speak up in the second half. He managed to say a lot. He thought he’d finished but got up again to end with a plea for leniency as we needed more time to get the money together. The judge listened and relayed it back well in his judgement. He admitted the Council had probably been underhand. I must get the court transcript. He described it as a clash of cultures but said at the end of the day the Council owns the site and now they want it back. As the owners they have the right to say how much they sell it for and who they sell it to. But how about as the Council? Aren’t they meant to nurture communities?

That evening was painful. We were all burnt out and heart broken. Suddenly people were organising where to go next.. where to store things.. The bailiffs could come at any time after all. We’d asked to speak to the guys from the Council straight after court to try to find out what kind of timescale we were looking at but they said that our lawyers should speak to their lawyers. So once again we’re left in the dark.
Rather than planning and packing, I was looking through the history folder again. I was reading about the nuns. The timing of it all is mad.
Here’s what I found:
They were the Sisters of the Christian Retreat. In 1848 a group of seven Sisters were to leave Les Fontenelles for London. As they left they were told by Fr Jerome Magnam: “leave dear Sisters for the land once known as the island of saints and scholars, carry with you the zeal for your rule, plant the Retreat in that house in London. Form the people that God will send you in the spirit of your vocation”.
On 16th December 1848 they arrived at their new home, which they called Nazareth House, the base from which they were to help the poor people of Peckham.

They arrived on the site 160 years to the day before we were told to leave it.
I’d read a newspaper article from the 80’s with a quote from someone mentioning that they felt as if the nun’s prayers were stuck in the walls. I’m certainly not the first to feel it.

Anyway, the next day brought madness. Suddenly there were loads of men with florescent jackets on in the yard. The gate was open. Quite a few people from the community were about coming with their condolences. We were all so baffled. It’s true there had been a smell of gas. And the guys had GAS written on their backs. But it was so bizarre as Spike doesn’t have gas. Next they were telling us we had to evacuate the building. But we hadn’t packed.. there’s 10 years of stuff to get back to people.
They told us our lives were at risk, but we couldn’t abandon Spike… not yet.. paranoia was creeping through. “The gasman cometh”…
The sensible among us managed to get us out of the building and explained that a pipe had cracked in the road and the gas had found its way up the electricity pipe. Yikes. That would be a crazy way for us to go out. It all seemed a bit too far fetched as an eviction technique. The gasmen decided we could apparently remain in the caravan at the far wall. 8 of us crammed in. Then a 9th, and then a 10th came. We moved into a larger caravan. It was sweet. It brought us together. Mark went off to his to make us all dinner and came back with a huge feast (some of which supplied by the wonderful people at the Frog on the Green Deli!). And the road was blocked for days. Wow, peace and quiet. It took them ages to fill in the holes because of the holidays so we had silence for our ceremony around the fire on Winter Solstice. Bob did us proud. My favourite part was when he opened up the circle for all to speak. There was a passionate remark. Then silence. Then another remark. Silence. A poem. Donna gave a heart wrenching speech. That circle was powerful. I know we are a strong community. So we lose our base. I’d rather still think we don’t. But it was agreed it was not the end of the world… though we should continue preparing for difficult times.
The fire was followed by a beautiful and melancholy Sunday Sounds jam. In difficult times we were thankfully all together doing what we do best.

I still believe we mustn’t give up. I wish there is more time and hope. I have become attached to a space. I think it’s magical. But I guess it is really a community I am attached to. What comes next I don’t know. The final push. More work.

Closed for gas works

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Spike forever

I had a fascinating day in the library about a month back. The John Harvard library has temporarily moved into Peckham library and the documents were finally available. They had more recent stuff than the London Metropolitan Archive. What most intrigued me were the newspaper articles about the Spike just after it closed in 1985. I was seeing familiar headlines: “Save the Spike campaign launched”. That was in the Mercury on November 21st 1985. Local residents were suggesting that the entire site should be converted into a mixture of flats, studios, workshops and community facilities. There was a gorgeous chapel on the site back then that would have been perfect for performances. There was a quote from the campaigns leader, Dave Cannon, saying that “Southwark seems determined to bulldoze the lot”. We asked John Beasley, a wonderful historian if he still knew of him, and he did. He still lives on Consort Road! Me and Donna went to visit him. He said he’d been supporting us from a distance. He seemed a little scarred from his battle back then.
There was a report in the Planning Newsheet winter 1987. The proposed redevelopment had received support from the Government funded North Peckham Taskforce. Then it seems it all went wrong. The majority of the site became housing association in 1992. Dave said all they could keep hold of was 39b, where the Children’s Scrap Scheme was based until they lost their funding.

So. There you go. A dream has been dreamed many times before. The nuns had a desire to have positive effects on Peckham. I read about their mission after JD did some research on the Sisters of the Holy Retreat. I’m sure the wayfarers dreamt of a place that they could be.

Lately I’ve been running samba workshops with Cardboard Citizens at a day centre for the homeless. The first week I showed up I joined the back of the queue as the men filed in. My thoughts immediately flashed back to conversations with Frank – I mentioned him in the first blog.. the queues down the road of colourful souls. I met another recently who had stayed at the Spike in the 70’s. His name is Jimmy and I met him at a Groundswell visioning day (I got some of the garden funding from them). He’ll come for an interview soon, but from what I could gather, he didn’t think much of the place back then. He said he couldn’t believe they made you shower to get in such a louse ridden bed!

Future wise at the Spike, things are still looking hazy. We are waiting to hear back from lenders. The Council are still being impossible to talk to. We’re having a clear out as someone making bio-diesel is just about to move in to one of the workshops. So it’s perfect timing for the Peoples Republic of Southwark mini eco fair which is taking place at the Spike on Sunday. It includes a bring and take event, invisible (wild) foods talk, music, food…
ecofair square

Dawit (AKA Smallmoney) has been working away and has come up with our first podcast…

And the thing that I’m most excited about is the launch of the Yoda Room. It’s the post production studio at the Spike, and for the last year me and Josh have been working towards getting it up and running. The tracks are sounding really fresh and people are truly so keen to get in here.

So things are feeling really positive anyway…

Friday, 14 November 2008

Still blossoming

It’s been a long time. A lot has happened. And not happened.

It’s unfortunate that our focus has been diverted into saving the community base.
There were a lot of beautiful plans for the summer that got shelved because of the pressure to find half a million quid.

So Halloween had to happen. Since the beginning of the Spike Surplus Scheme there has been a gathering on 31st October. This year was the tenth marking of the end of summer, honouring of the dead.
The place was buzzing in the weeks leading up to it. So creative. Papier mache skulls emerging, boards were being painted up out in the yard… passers by couldn’t help but pick up a brush.. and then they couldn’t put them down! One night I found Karen, Maddy, Mary-Anne and Kevin down in the workshop at 3 in the morning! They didn’t know each other before.

We were having Thriller dance rehearsals at every chance we got, which were going fine until we realised that it was all at a quarter speed. We didn’t pull that one off. Hey ho. Next year.

Phil ItIsTV had massive ideas on the projector side of things. All week he was laying cables and arranging equipment. Prasanth was frantically fixing projectors. Paul was getting photos together from previous years. And wow. It was so amazing on the night. Projections all over the walls of the railway bridge and the gazebo roof. And there was filming. And a diary room for a while before people became too unfocussed.

Delphine put on such a beautiful fireworks display after the fire ceremonies. The fireworks were gorgeous – a good variety of safe ones.. but it was her I was really impressed by. She’s just started doing it professionally and wow, she really displayed them well. You could see flashes of her darting about lighting more in a sequence. I hope someone filmed that.

All the bands were awesome.. The Pinstickers set the tone.. full energy Ggrrhhhh. Headjam once again did Spike proud, and Victor Menace with their ninja folk made us dance til we turned into pumpkins.. or something.

Anyway.. we hit the ground with a bang after the celebration. Suddenly it was November and the next opportunity to speak with the Council Assembly had come. We had finally received a reply from Harriet Harman accompanied by the report she had been sent from Southwark Council. Oh my word! It was so spurious. A really negative, uninformed overview. Lynn braved the townhall this time, simply asking if they would come and visit the site so they could know what they are talking about. Nick Stanton responded by saying that he could not answer the question because of the legal situation. I was bursting to ask ‘what legal situation?’ from the balcony, but I restrained myself as Lynn asked if they would come once the legal situation was sorted... he said that would depend on the outcome or something. So maybe they’re talking about eviction procedures. I think they’re crazy. They don’t know the talent and love based here. Obviously. Yet.
I hope the money comes fast. Donna’s flat is on the market. A number of lenders are considering the business plan. We’ve got a begging letter workday next week…

A good bit of positivity came through the other day. It was the second meeting of the Greener Peckham food group, and this time it was held at the Spike, in conjunction with Spike’s regular community gardening meet up. It was wonderful to have such inspiring and active people around the kitchen table. We spoke about growing projects out and about around Peckham. Greener Ventures Sarah has been sorting funding to start a community garden in a park by a local estate as well as show case growing and permaculture in an urban setting right in the middle of town by the library.
So onwards and upwards.

Here’s a video of Sound of Rum at a Monday Love special for The Spike. It was a great night at the Good Ship in Kilburn.

I’ve known Kate for about 4 years now. She’s very much part of the Spike magic. Check out Sound of Rum.
Oh, and Spike TV is about to launch on the podcast… watch this space.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Spike Specific Exhibition

spike specific exhibition square
We had an art exhibition here a fortnight ago. It was advertised in TimeOut and followed all our press appearances so everyone interested could come down and have a real look at the place and see the stuff that goes on. The whole place is a work of art. And that’s what the Spike Specific curator, Mark Hammond, was keen to get across.

We had some big names exhibiting. There was art from Yoko Ono, Gavin Turk, and Bob and Roberta Smith made special Save the Spike pieces along with Mark Thomas. Richard Prince had some art in the exhibition, as well as Crymein, Richard Niman, and many more. We tried to get Antony Gormley involved… he apparently lives just down the road, and would be expected to be in support of the artists who are based at The Spike. We all had a vision of the Angel of the South.. which led on to the idea that if he did make one we could include William Blake on the line up.. with the angels he saw in the oaks on Peckham Rye . We have the oaks here already from our Oak Nursery, which get planted out in our local parks (with permission) every winter.

There are connections to Banksy but we didn’t get through in time. We thought we’d be OK for putting Mark Wallinger on the list. He’d replicated an artwork my friend Sue and I did. The artwork in question was part of the Brian Haw display from Parliament Square that he copied and won the Turner Prize with. No disrespect.. it was great he got it in the news, just to say that I felt just.. but we didn’t get round to repainting the 3 monkey saying “see no truth, hear no truth, speak no …” with the last monkey gagged, so we didn’t put him on the line up.
It was a beautiful day. Andrew Bylo showed up and made some beautiful sketches of the day as it went on. Prasanth Visweswaren exhibited his sleep series of photographs, a stunning collection of sleeping from around the world, linking in nicely with the history of The Spike and its homeless centre past. One graffiti artist came to do a piece saying FREE DPM. They are a crew that have been given 2 year sentences for painting a train. Criminal Damage. It makes me sad that multinationals have such a monopoly on our visual landscape.

Sandie Schells exhibited his wonderful Lowrey keyboard. A 1972 keyboard covered in buttons, keys, pedals which spews colour with its sounds. People couldn’t get off it with 4 or 5 people jamming on it all the time. Yusuf Martin displayed his boat on the roof drawing attention to the ever more threatening results of climate change. Maryanne Gordon got out her array of activist art, which were being painted throughout the weekend. Rob Rub ran a record sale.. local hero DJ Rubbish’s CDs went down particularly well, with all proceeds going to the save the spike fund. Bless him.

Elizabeth Manchester exhibited her plaster of paris boobs in the trees which got a fair bit of attention. NoNo got out his spikes, spray cans and potatoes and made some pieces in situ. Owen Alvares showed his natural art.. taking some beautiful examples of dead trees, cleaning them up to bring out the aesthetic features and putting it into the art environment. Freidal exhibited his wonderful carved wooden rocking ducks, whilst Spring set up a Spike wishing tree for intensions to be set. Raul Pina came and created a fascinating piece from what he found on site, sticking to the ‘site specific’ criteria. And there were many many more exhibiting. Beautiful colours came from the Spike kids art area. Delicate flowers from recycled materials were crafted for décor for the Peckham Green Fayre.

PS Burton was on the line up. That was George Orwell’s tramping name. A few weeks ago Mick Hollylee, a former worker at the Camberwell Reception Centre (1976-1985 or something like that) turned up. His dad had worked here as well. He totally loves the Spike. He had some lovely stories, and some scary ones. We had an interview of his running on repeat in the toilets, along with the history wall, so everyone got a chance to appreciate the fascinating history.

Once again no one from the Council came by. Or no-one with any particular power. Legal services have apparently now advised the relevant Councillors and Planning department workers not to meet with us.. so we’re a little stuck. Challenging times.

But lovely. The Bonnington Square Café did a fundraiser for us Saturday night. I think the place has a similar history as Spike. They make delicious vegan food and the managers, who are married, met at a Spike Halloween! So we’ve got to have another of those! All the staffs wages went towards our deposit.. 240 quid!! Big up!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

We Love Peckham

Woah. It’s been yet another rollercoaster of a month.

It started with a surge of media reporters.. The Guardian was the first one through (after the local press), then a group from the British Film Institute, then the BBC News. It’s mad times.. ‘selling’ the Spike.. it is an incredible thing but it’s always been left down to whatever the individual interprets the place as. Then we were filmed for Sunday Life, a Sunday morning Lifestyle show. The producer, Cathy was lovely and they came whilst we were having our first attempt with the cob oven, which worked!
Donna fueling the cob oven

We got a big response from that feature. People were getting in touch from all over the Country showing there support. One woman is making Spike hula hoops to help raise money to buy the place. A guy is buying a cruise for a Spike fundraising raffle. It’s beautiful and heart warming.

TimeOut was a good one. We were their campaign. They’d managed to get a quote off Councillor Tim McNally (Southwark’s executive member for resources) saying ‘Where the costs far outweigh the benefits, we have a policy of selling property and ploughing the money back into making Southwark cleaner, greener and safer”. He hasn’t been here. We hope he realises the incredibly talented and genuinely giving and inspiring community that uses Spike as a base.

So it was good we had the opportunity to take the Spike Surplus Scheme out last Saturday – to the Canal Bridge (Peckham) Green Fayre - where some of them would have seen us. It was a huge success. The sun was out, fortunately, as The Spike provided the main stage – fully solar powered, some bands, Generator X’s Solar Cinema, a vegan café, a kids craft area, a very popular wellbeing (healing) space, an info stall... and of course smiles and décor. Everyone did it voluntarily with our pay going towards buying the place. Even Southwark’s Regeneration department, who were there with a stall, said they are excited by what the Spike community is doing and had some suggestions of bringing school groups round.
Famous Peckhamite Mohammed

If the Green Fayre were compared with Southwark’s I Love Peckham festival, I think people would probably say the former was better. Leslie, one of the Green Fayre organisers, made sure that as much of the money as possible went back into Peckham for one thing. And there was a really united atmosphere. There was a letter in the Southwark News about the last Spike open day which was part of the I love Peckham festival. We weren’t in the promotional material for one reason or another, but we went ahead because we do love Peckham. It’s even written in huge letters on the roof ready for Google Earth to come over again (the image they’ve got at the moment is about 2 years old). We had a great day. The letter seemed to suggest that it’s not that easy to find community elsewhere in Peckham. So I don’t understand why the Council is being so heavy with this one.

Yesterday we get a new letter from the legal department. A really scary one going on about the deadline on Friday and proceeding with eviction procedures. Oh my. We’re waiting for them to confirm a meeting. There’s a lot of things to settle before we hand over any money.

Anyway, here’s a better glimpse of the Spike Surplus Scheme.. we quickly put this film together.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Xtra xtra read all about it.

Page 3 of the South London Press. We even made it onto the sandwich board outside the paper shop in Nunhead.

We’re flogging Peckham Diamonds. Not in the kind of quantity we need to if we’re to raise the cash to secure the Spike, but slowly slowly.

For those who don’t know what a Peckham Diamond is, you get them when a car has been broken into. It’s the cubes of glass left on the streets after. So we’ve been out cleaning them up and bagging them.

We’re taking a two-pronged approach to this current obstacle about buying the place. Conventional and unconventional. The diamonds were Mark’s idea, or I should say Sandy Schells. He’s a star. We needed a gimmick and it was suitably Delboy (Only Fools and Horses). One pound at a time. We need to make a totaliser.

The conventional approach is the business plan. We’ve had some long nights of late. We had to get in it to the Council for the meeting. They wanted lots of paper to prove we’re serious. So us practical people were tied to computers and calculators for the last months. We haven’t done badly.

I decided not to go to the meeting. There was 5 of us already and we didn’t want to go in too mob-handed. It sounded stormy. For the first 10 minutes anyway. Then our angel spoke up.

Our angel came in the form of Caroline from Positive News/TV. She loves the Spike and wants to set up office here. And she’s positive. So she reminded everyone we should be looking towards the future. This apparently nicely deferred the attention from the declarations that we’d got into bed with the wrong political party. We now have until mid September to give them the first 10 percent. They want the full 440,000 by mid October. So we have a little more time. A result I guess. Better than 30th August, which was when our notice to quit was. It was lookin like we were in deep trouble with the Council away on holiday. So, we’re still breathing.

peckham diamonds

Monday, 18 August 2008

Looking back

So the other day I had to take a break. It was another sunny one and I jumped on my bike and headed for Hampstead Heath. I love water so it was my first thought to go for a swim at the ponds. I went alone. It was lush.

I stayed over at a friend’s house in North London and got up early keen to return to the Spike with something. So I headed for the London Metropolitan Archive again. I was on a mission to get proof that George Orwell had stayed. I’d seen on the internet that his tramping name was PS Burton and that he was wandering in the early 30s so I just needed to look at the admission books from then. I located the microfilm and got flicking through the pages. Slowly slowly through the Bs. Nothing on the first page of them, or the second, or the third. Then came the forth. It was ripped. Half a page totally missing. No other pages in the whole thing were torn. I couldn’t believe our bad luck. So maybe we will never know.

But I did have a funny thought whilst I was there. I wished I’d thought it before we registered the Trust name (Peckham Community Property Trust).

Before The Spike was handed over to the London County Council in 1932 it belonged to The Camberwell Board of Guardians. We’re a board of guardians. It might have made the history papers a little confusing..

Monday, 11 August 2008

Some background...

The story starts 2 years ago for me.. but it’s very much part of a far older one.

Between the bridges nestles The Spike. I landed there. That’s the best way to describe it.

I knew the gates… I’d walked past there weekly when I’d been at Uni, living in Nunhead 7 years before. I never knew what was behind there – what was blossoming as I graduated, travelled, uncomfortably slipped into the 9 to 5, found myself unable to fit in. It was time to leave Highbury and I’d bought a van and was ready for a bit of roving. But it was a short drive South of the river. Wise words told me my dreams would come true at the Spike, and I pass the message on.

For those who don’t know, there’s a massive network of wonderful social centres throughout the world. There’s a whole load of people taking life back into their hands. And there are a lot of forgotten about places. It seems people lose track of them. I’ve seen it from different angles. I’ve worked at the Council. Some of the people I’m closest to are landlords. But some people are so thirsty for some space to explore life together.. and they go for it – open heartedly.

And they are all sorts. Workers looking to socialise somewhere that they don’t have to buy a drink. People the government have deemed ‘incapable’. Mothers in it alone. Musicians hungry for the next meal. Retired folk hemmed into battery flats. Artists trying to get somewhere. The thing they have in common is that they want to be part of something.

So the story since the 1850s meadows and orchards of Peckham.

‘The Spike’ was built in some time around 1860 by some Nuns – The Sisters of the Holy Retreat. But they got scared off by the smelly and noisy railway and I think the Camberwell Board of Guardians got the then called Nazareth House. Some more bits got built and it became a Workhouse. A Poorhouse. Donna and I went and looked at the admission books at the London Metropolitan Archives a while back. There were pages and pages of names who’d been drawn to The Spike over the years. Whole family’s, 80 year old shoe makers, travellers, weavers.. We saw the punishment books too. “liberty and tobacco stopped” “tea and sugar stopped” “2 meals bread and water”. Harsh. (But maybe it could work?!?) The exchange at The Spike was to break up stones. Each inmate would have to break up a certain quantity of stone that was small enough to pass through a grill (one of which is housed at the Livesey Museum – which has just been closed down).

We found an old newspaper article the other day about a day trip. It sounded so funny. There was outrage that all the inmates got plastered in the townhall before they’d even got on the train to Brighton. I knew the characters. Know the scene. I see them today.

I think in 1932 it passed over to the London County Council and became The Camberwell Resettlement Unit. It was a place for wayfarers (men only) to get a wash, some food, a bed. George Orwell wrote about life in “The Spikes” (we’re trying to find out if he came to this one). They were known as a ‘last resort’. You could only stay in each one once a month.

A wonderful old guy called Frank ended up round here a little while back. From the toilets I heard him talking to someone about how he’d worked in the arches next door in the ‘50s. I managed to get his number and interviewed him. It was a really amazing afternoon. He’d grown up around here. Seen the German fighter plane fly down Consort Road. Seen the massive queues everyday of poets, jokers, drunks, misfortunate souls hustling to get into this entrance – the free entrance to the Doss House.

It closed down in 1985. There was an article in The Times about it.

There had been a fire. Some of the complex was lost. Some was sold off to a housing association. The administrative block became ‘light industrial’.

Someone came for a film night a while back who said he’d come to the Spike when he was young with his dad who was a potter. He said it had been a Foundry. Then there was The South London Children’s Scrap Scheme. They left when they lost their funding and couldn’t pay the rent. Then it was forgotten about. Abandoned. Fly-tipped. Burnt out.

That’s when an army of local hopefuls got to work. 10 years ago. They clubbed together to hire a JCB for a day and shifted the tonnes of fly-tipped debris away from the building. Replaced the glass in the windows. Fixed up the roof. They took care. They had no money but there was a city of surplus and lots of enthusiasm. The stories I hear are incredible and I can see the palimpsest of a myriad of beautifully creative folks energy.

Today the place is so magical. I guess that’s just how I look at things. But everyone says it’s special. If I had to sum it up in 3 words I guess it would be peace of mind.

There is a large hall – interesting architecturally apparently. It’s pretty sound proof and over the years a PA and sound recording equipment has been clubbed together. So loads of local bands practice and record in there. There are 2 sessions everyday, and it’s not just bands – theatre groups, choirs, puppet shows. £20 for 4 hours. All the back line, a sound engineer (who did the sound for the Ozric Tentacles for 10 years). It covers the cost of repairs and electric and stuff. And the Spike offers far more than this to musicians. Support, advice, equipment hire and a network of really wonderful people.

Downstairs there’s a wood workshop where all the DIY is done. There is a philosophy on site of reuse, recycle, repair. Through necessity and consciousness. The amount of use the workshop has had has gone in waves depending on who’s been involved in the project when. Stairs have been made, chairs have been fixed, signs painted, things from skips stored. A wonderful character called Bob comes down when he’s not helping out in Nunhead Cemetery. He’s almost finished making a Leith with a foot pedal for turning wood. Him and another Bob (who is an expert on diesels, looks at the world like a druid, and often comes on a Friday) have been debating whether it will work.

Next door there is another room that was a printing press but is now the home of ItIsTV – Phil’s video editing suite. It may also soon be a workspace for teaching animation on computers if John gets the funding.

Then there’s a post production studio. It’s been a store room, a dark room, but now it’s a space for music collaborations. That is where I like to be when I’m not in the garden.

The garden is so wonderful. About a year ago we got sme funding to finally remove some of the material that had been dumped on the site before it was opened up. A lot of energy had been put into the garden right from the start. It was just rubble and concrete but planters were built and topsoil brought in. Compost made. Vegetables grown. But there was a large space that was largely unused because it was boxed in behind the mound. Quite a wilderness. The foxes and butterflies liked it but there was a real demand for more space and it was a great kick start after energy had slightly dwindled. Spike got some more funding to run a free permaculture course which has been so good. It’s been inspiring and assisting other community gardens. People around here do want to connect with real life – they just haven’t the space to. There are 2 year waiting lists for allotments. Window boxes in tower blocks bursting… The latest addition to the Spike is a crazy cyber spikey omming ape made of clay – in another light a kind of Hanuman shrine. In actual fact it’s a cob oven. The mound gave birth to it. We’ve been building seating out of railway sleepers around the front of the mound. The mud we’ve been removing (I say we, but Tony is super hero like and has probably done the majority out of 20 or so of us!). We’ve been sieving the mud, mixing it with straw and water and packing it around a wicker frame. Three whole days over the course of a month we’ve been working on it together. It’s been really fun. The last Sunday was perfect. I really like synchronicity and it was funny how Mark, a wonderful artist and human being, turned up just at the moment when things weren’t going to well in the final sculpting stage. He was so cool with it. Is it a dragon? Poke poke splat. Nope. “You have a go”. Pig? Nope. Aardvark? Nope. And it just kind of became this incredible ape. Then of course the Spikes had to go on. Then holes so that smoke could come out of her ears. Hands in the meditation pose. It’s smashing. And it fits in with my caravan that Cry sprayed up a few months back. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. It looks like the monkey temples in the forests in Indonesia. Anyway. The cob oven is in amongst the weaved living willow. Karen’s friend Lucy taught us how and there is now an arch over the stairs leading down the back of the mound, and a little living willow structure. It’s so peaceful to sit in there. There is also a pond, an irrigation system, fruit and veg. We have Dormice, Stag beetles, Dragon Flies, Wren’s, Woodpeckers.. a healthy ecosystem. It’s one of the green oasis’ in Peckham.

Upstairs there is a large kitchen. It is awesome. It’s vegetarian and stocked with every bean, pulse, herb, spice, etc you could think of. Every Sunday after the community garden we eat together – hoards of us. It was funny when I recently found a picture of a sign from ‘The Spike’ (Camberwell Resettlement Unit) on the internet. It said something along the lines of ‘anyone engaged in duties on a Sunday can remain on site for the rest of the day. Tea and refreshments will be provided’. It seems some things never change.

Out onto the balcony and the next room along is a kind of conference room / office / cinema. Some people have meetings there. There’s projector, computers and sofas. It’s used for some educational stuff but mainly for the running of the Spike.

Next door along is the dojo. It’s a large room with padded floor and full size mirrors on one of the walls. There are yoga classes, dance classes, martial arts.. all sorts. On Friday’s there is a Wellbeing Clinic. It’s open to all and run on a donations basis. It’s good for newly qualified practitioners to get more experience before they go professional. Other more experienced healers just like to give. The day starts with a yoga session, then people can arrange appointments for all the other things on offer. Shiatsu, ayuvedic massage, reiki, vortex, reflexology.. it’s really good. Otherwise people can just relax in the garden with a cup of tea if that’s what they feel to do.

Hanging off the balcony are the solar panels. All battery charging is done from these which includes car batteries for mobile sound systems. Spike’s trying to get more panels and has a dream to one day be off the grid. But for now we’re concentrating on getting together a green rig, with our first gig on 20th September doing the main stage for the Peckham Green Fair.

Below the balcony is the recycling point- glass, paper, metal, aluminium. The centre is big on composting… and environmental initiatives in general. Yusuf fixes up bikes and distributes them amongst the community. It is a vegetarian site.

The Spike Surplus Scheme has never charged entrance. Everything (apart from the hall which has the highest running costs) is on a donations basis. It is community led and about skill sharing. Now it seems everything is in jeopardy.

For 8 years the Council had forgotten about the existence of this plot of land. And then they remembered.

They took the project the court. The court saw what the Spike Surplus Scheme had achieved and it was awarded a 2 year peppercorn lease. That was in 2006.

Earlier this year a surveyor from the Council came and suggested that they wouldn’t sell it due to it’s awkward location. Then we got the call.

2 hours before the executive meeting to discuss selling the place.

Over 50 of us hurried down to the Townhall but it seemed clear that the decision had already been made. The previous point on the agenda showed that there was money wanting to be spent on consultancy. That money was going to be raised by selling off property, including 39B Consort Road. They said it was a ‘disused industrial building’. They knew it wasn’t. Or some of them did. The property department made sure to use the ‘squatters’ terminology as much as possible, accenting the ‘squ’.

They could have used it as a success story. Their commitments as outlined in the Community Strategy – Southwark 2016 state they “encourage and support self-help and community-led activities that help create safer, stronger communities and improve quality of life and community cohesion”. Not true.

It’s been a mad few months. 10 years of beautiful community creation is not going to be given up on. Not easily anyway. The first month was spent trying to appeal the decision to sell. With the building restored and a myriad of projects running, the scheme was willing to pay a real rent. But the Scrutiny Committee came down to party politics. With a Lib Dem and Tory Council against us, Fiona Colley’s support (Labour) didn’t come to anything. Councillor’s wouldn’t even come and visit the Spike to see what had grown. We put a question to the Council Assembly but Spike was stonewalled. The judicial review was thrown out referring to us as ‘men of straw’.

So of late we have been glued to computer screens trying to re jig the business plan desperately working out ways we could pay off a mortgage whilst maintaining the guiding philosophy of the Spike. And that’s where we’re at. Getting tired.

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it. Check the petition: