Peckham's art scene under tram threat

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The thriving south London arts scene faces an uncertain future after the TFL's proposals for the Cross River Tram Link. Big Smoke investigates

  • Peckham's art scene under tram threat

    The Bussey's exterior and surrounding estate

  • In an irony not lost on its residents, Peckham’s Bussey Building used to be a gun factory. ‘Weapons were designed here and there was a rifle range along the side,’ says local entrepreneur Mickey Smith, as he walks me through the Bussey, a Victorian warehouse behind Rye Lane. The space is the focus of a thriving arts scene that is being hailed as the ‘new Shoreditch’ – but it’s also at the centre of a fierce debate about the future of Peckham and its proposed tram route.

    The Bussey was built by another local entrepreneur, George Bussey, in 1860 as part of a huge industrial estate. Bussey manufactured cricket bats, as well as developing patents for firearms here. The building fell into disuse, but recently it has been colonised by over 100 artists, who have set up studios over its four floors. An adjacent warehouse hosts the Hannah Berry Gallery (‘a young, bold gallery’, according to the Financial Times), and there are 40 other small businesses on the estate.

    ‘There is a lot of creativity but the media only focus on guns and knives,’ says Smith, whose own organisation, an arts collective called The Chronic Art Foundation, is based here. Smith is also part of Peckham Vision, a campaign which is lobbying Southwark Council to turn the estate into an arts hub, with affordable studios, performance spaces, cafés and bars.

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    Exhibits at the Bussey

    There is one snag: Transport for London has its eyes on the estate as a base for the Cross River Tram link, a £450 million initiative to link Camden with Peckham. It wants the site for a six-acre tram depot – which would mean the demolition of the Bussey and the other warehouses. ‘We’re not opposed to the tram, but we don’t need a depot in the town centre,’ explains Smith. The only hope is that Mayor Boris Johnson has yet to firmly commit to the tram. Smith is keeping his fingers crossed. ‘All this history would be knocked down, as well as the potential for a vibrant cultural quarter.’
    ‘I Love Peckham Festival' July 14-20, See www.southwark.gov.uk; ‘How do we build London’s cultural capital?’ debate at the Bussey,133 Rye Lane, SE15, July 19, email theprimer@radiopeckham.org. Also see: www.peckhamvision.org.

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