It was with a collective ‘Oh, for fuck’s SAKE’ that news broke about a threat to yet another London cultural cornerstone: Peckham’s wonderful Bussey Building, home to nightlife hotspot the CLF Art Café. Between them, these multi-purpose arts spaces hosts club nights, gigs, theatre, film screenings (including the hugely popular Rooftop Film Club) and exhibitions, plus Rye Wax, an ace record shop in the basement of the complex. Through the efforts of people like the CLF creative director Mickey Smith, the Bussey Building has become a globally respected party hub, and has contributed massively to the good will directed at Peckham.
All of which could become a distant memory thanks to – get ready to feign surprise – yet more property developers trying to muscle in, hoping to create swanky flats in the same complex that houses the Bussey.
If the proposals go ahead, Smith anticipates that it would be pretty much impossible for the CLF Arts Cafe and the Bussey to continue operating.
It’s an infuriatingly familiar story, given the loss of pivotal nightlife spots like Madame JoJo’s, Plastic People and The Joiners Arms recently – but hey, we don’t really need incredible clubs, gig spaces and arts venues in which to spend our time, right? We can all derive the same levels of pleasure and attain the same priceless memories from staring at soulless developments that 98 percent of Londoners will never be able to afford, right?
Sarcasm aside, there’s a small sliver of hope for the Bussey. We spoke to Smith – a man who helped save the CLF from demolition and build the invaluable arts hub it now stands as – about the proposals and how people can object to these plans.
‘Once the flats go in, you can forget about the Bussey Building’
What’s happening, exactly?
‘Last week we found out there’s an application going forward to convert the building on Rye Lane in front of our venue into 11 flats and eight units to be rented out, with a glass back and an extra two storeys on top. The doorways for these new units would open into the alley used by the Bussey Building, and entrances from the planned shops that lead into the Bussey courtyard.
‘It means people wouldn’t be able to queue for the club in the corridor, the glass back would overlook the courtyard and the extended roof would be same height as the Bussey’s Rooftop Cinema. The bottom line is: once the flats and shops go into the block, you can forget about the Bussey Building and about everything we do there, because nobody would be able to enter the building properly. It would kill us.’
How many jobs would be lost?
‘Around 700 people work on the whole Copeland Park site [a wider complex of buildings and units that the Bussey Building and the CLF Arts Cafe are a part of], and that doesn’t include extra weekend employees at the CLF.’
Has there been a lot of local support for the Bussey and Copeland Park?
‘There’s been loads of support. People from around the area have dropped in to find out what was happening and how they could object. At every level of Peckham, people are up in arms about the proposals – from venue owners to shop owners to people on the street, everybody’s saying: “This is ridiculous, we don’t want a block of flats there.” People are getting together, they’ve had enough. Some people in the council are also horrified about it. They’re saying: “You have to fight this, because the area needs what you’re doing.”’
‘If people value what we do over 11 luxury flats, they should make an objection’
What effect would the developments have on Peckham?
‘It would kill Peckham’s creative scene, because the precedent would be set that money is being valued over creativity. Projects like the Bussey have put so much creativity into the area, so for that to have to move somewhere else entirely would be a massive loss. People used to have to leave Peckham to go out – now they can stay around the area, but it’s getting to the situation where they’re going to have to leave again because there’s nothing here. It cuts out the heart of any community.’
Is this down to gentrification happening in London?
‘Yes, absolutely. It’s a standard pattern we keep seeing, it’s almost becoming a bit of a boring story.’
What can people do to object to the proposals?
‘Make an objection on Southwark Council’s planning application comments page and sign the petition on Change.org. If people value what we do over 11 luxury flats, they should make an objection. We need everybody to get on board with this – the more support we get, the more chance there is of people realising just how unpopular it would be.’