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: http://www.petitiononline.com/paulk/