Peckham Diamond helps save community under threat
Introducing the Peckham Diamond. A threatened community arts project finds a lifeline in smashed windows
Peckham wheeler-dealer Del Boy Trotter would be proud of his neighbours’ enterprising gumption. A community project has been packaging and selling ‘Peckham Diamonds’, bits of glass from shattered car windows found by the roadside, filed down and preserved in plastic wallets. But the people behind the Spike Surplus Scheme don’t want to strike it rich; they just want to keep their home.
The volunteer-run organisation, which provides music workshops for local young people, has been told that it must raise £440,000 by September 26 to buy its current plot, or Southwark Council will sell the land to private investors.
At £1 a throw, it will take a fair few Peckham Diamonds to raise that amount, even though there are plenty of smashed windows to be found near the scheme’s base on Consort Road – marked as a high-risk area on the Metropolitan Police’s new crime-mapping webpage. All the more reason, says volunteer Paul Kelly, to support positive initiatives like theirs.
‘We help to discourage anti-social behaviour. Every time we put on an event, like our recent puppet show, the place is packed through word of mouth. There’s nothing else like this around here and people want to be a part of it. Local children help out in the gardens and are safe; the neighbours are thrilled we are here.’
Ten years ago the site was literally a rubbish dump. It was known locally as an ideal place for fly-tipping and mounds of refuge were left to fester in the yard around the abandoned building. Then Kelly and his friends moved in as squatters and, with the help of a JCB and a bit of imagination, transformed the house into the homely, brightly coloured sanctuary that it is today.
The project’s main themes are creativity and wellbeing. A recording studio and post-production room on the ground floor are hired out to budding musicians at a low rate. There is also a band rehearsal room, which resembles an actual gig venue, with a stage, drumkit, local artists’ work adorning the walls and an old, curved, pub bar stand that was rescued from a skip. The scheme has even enjoyed a visit from musician Manu Chao.
Donna Malcomson, who looks after the Spike garden, says: ‘People don’t have enough space to grow things, which is a natural, human thing to do. At first what we did was to plant lots of trees. We have trees that local children have planted in memory of dead pets.’
Two years ago, Southwark Council gave its support to the project. It offered Spike a ‘peppercorn contract’: one peppercorn a year as rent, but only if requested. Kelly says: ‘We thought they were being nice; we thought they wanted to help us.’ The council never did demand a peppercorn, but they refused to renew the contract for any other amount and it runs out at the end of the month.
Councillor Tim McNally, Southwark Council’s executive member for resources, says: ‘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. The council decided that it was in the interest of the borough to sell 39b Consort Road, which was being used by the Spike Surplus Scheme. We have given them some time, but after that if they have not secured funding, then the council will have to sell the property.’ So Spike volunteers have begun an urgent fundraising campaign. Apart from the Peckham Diamonds, they are also organising an art exhibition on September 13 and 14. One collage charts the site’s previous life as a workhouse or ‘spike’. Kelly says: ‘We want to continue that tradition of helping the local community’s poorest paid.’
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