Tuesday 1 December 2009

Another Peckham Scaff Yard

So, in September the gates changed from pink to yellow with DR Scaffolding across it. A few weeks later the entire garden (all the trees, all the plants, all the frogs, all the stag beetles, the cob oven, the irrigation.. ) was torn out and removed in several skips. Apparently the scaffolders (who have extended their storage capacity from their base on the other side of the road) needed the space for their vast trucks. I’ve heard they’re just renting it.
What to say... There’s a million rants in all this.

D walked by on halloween.. she said she could see all the spirits revelling on in there.
The extended community is doing well.. creative places popping up all the time.. gigs, art, practices, cups of tea, jams, dreams, meditation, progression..
I can still taste Spike sometimes..


Tuesday 7 July 2009

5 months on...

So, nearly 5 months have passed...
It still feels strange not being there, not doing what we were doing, together...
Life has been hard for many.
I occasionally get a chance to stop by the old Spike gates. It's really heart-breaking to not be allowed in there. It's hard to see the security and the dogs and the lack of activity, the lack of laughter and the lack of creativity within those gates. The first time the Council visited they said they wouldn't be able to sell it. It still seems they haven't managed yet.
There has been some good news... the Spike film finally got finished and it's been receiving quite a lot of attention... it was shown along with 10 other shortlisted films in the Fast Forward Film Festival held at the LCC, Elephant and Castle the other day, and it turned out that we won! We get 5 grand to make a new film. It'll be amazing to have a budget!

Anyway, here's the award winning film, The Spike Story... see what you think. It's 15 minutes and it's the whole story so far.. as we know it!

Wednesday 4 March 2009

2009 - sad times

I still can’t actually believe it.
Even with us scattered around Peckham, all Spike’s stuff in skips.

Fil (ItIsTv) and I have been working hard editing all the footage to make this Spike history documentary. 2 years in the making (or 160 years!) and now the race is on. I’m in limbo until it’s done.

December continued to be heart wrenching. The court case had well and truly dampened the vibe. Things were getting packed up.

Everyone dealt with it differently. Some just had to get on with it… often fighting back tears. Others felt to carry on ‘business as usual’ – though it was far from a merry Christmas. Bless the eternal optimists and the accepting realists… we couldn’t have got through it without each other.

As mirrors and paintings were being taken down, paint was frantically slapped on, covering up the blank patches. As greenhouses were being dismantled they were rapidly replaced by benches and plant pots. The workshop was cleared of good materials worth storing and transformed into an art space, primarily for banner making.

The hall continued on as a rehearsal space with the recording equipment away in storage. Sanford Housing Coop were practicing for their performance of King Lear right through January. The show at the end of the month was fantastic. The place was rammed and everyone loved it.

Martial arts and Chi gong continued right through to the end in the dojo. I only noticed how fantastic the acoustics are in there the last day I was in packing up stuff. What came out of me sounded like plainsong. I imagined the nuns telling us it was all ok.

In January we had a couple of demos down at the Townhall… people were feeling desperate.. desperate to make the Council see what they were about to rid. They were very colourful but got us nowhere. Mark had spoken to a Councillor walking through us to the doors. He’d said it was the Council’s responsibility to sell it for the most money. Mark told him he was a crook.

We had a few good events at Spike but the regular noisy helicopters overhead were a bad omen and on 12th February (so nearly Friday 13th), whilst there were only 2 people onsite, 30 odd coppers and bailiffs and big dogs stormed the place. No warning. 6.30am.

The Council had apparently been to the High Court behind our backs on 22nd January and got permission.

30 or so of us were left on the wrong side of the gates watching them lording over the place and going through our stuff. A load of community wardens stood around in there looking pointless for ages.

Then the head of Southwark’s property department came out with his crony’s. We followed them to their car spewing insults after them. What else could we do? They’d kicked us out of our home.

We hugged, cried and shouted outside those gates. We sang songs. What else to do. It was all so wrong.

Eventually they decided we could go in to get some of our stuff when we were no longer looking like a threat. I had cops watching me collect up clean underwear, my guitar and sleeping bag.

We were allocated days over the next fortnight to collect our things. The security could see what was going on, what was being stripped. They said they could see it was all wrong but that they had to do their job. They’d occasionally throw arm like toys for their dogs to savage.

We had a last supper at Spike whilst they were in the yard. It was strange. There were the remains of meat dinners in the kitchen now. The washing up hadn’t been done. There were new caretakers in there. I tried staying on top of the tidying up for a while but everyone said I was going mad and to leave it as there were more urgent things to be done. I took the compost out.

We put out pleas for people to collect stuff that was otherwise now destined for the skips. I was there the day the tinkers came in with their vast skips and big tools to clear the place. They were sweet enough… asking if I wanted to keep this or that. It took them 4 days. It’s a sorry sight.

It was painful to be locked out of my friends house for 4 hours where I was meant to be kipping on the sofa. 11pm on a Sunday night. No battery left on my phone so I cycled round a few places locally. But no-one was in, or they were asleep. I ended up at the Spike gates… peeked through to see my caravan.. a bed in my cave but trapped 10 metres from it. O Spike. This can’t be it.

See, we’ve actually been saying for ages we needed a real sort out. Get away all the things that were always to be waiting to be fixed. Redesign the space. Start on self builds to house caretakers properly… we needed to get some space in the yard.

So I remain optimistic. I can’t let go yet. I love you Spike from the bottom of my heart.
Everything will be OK. We’ll see you again.

Sanford’s ‘King Lear’ at Spike
Sanford's 'King Lear' at Spike
Spike at Loggerheads with the Council
Spike at Loggerheads with the Council
Spike Fox pays the Council a Visit
Spike fox pays a visit to the Council
Eviction Day
Eviction day

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!