Hidden away among the abundant retail opportunities of Lewisham Shopping Centre is a space it doesn't cost a penny to enjoy. Lewisham Community Space has taken over an old shopfront and transformed it into a spot that offers a jam-packed line-up of activities for locals. Parents can turn up to the nursery and have a coffee while volunteers entertain their kids. There are tons of fitness classes that have a special emphasis on appealing to women and teenage girls, including yoga, dance, archery, table tennis, Zumba, boxing, and spin sessions, as well as seated exercise for people who can't access standard classes. And there's also a programme of social support and hot meals available on a drop in basis to those in need.
All this was made possible by a link-up between Lewisham Council and a group of not-for-profits and charities including Enable and The Felix Project. But now, its trial period is coming to an end, and the project's organisers are asking people to sign a petition to keep its doors open.
So why sign? Well, as the cost of living crisis bites, there's a massive need for free opportunities for people to get healthy and connect with other people, instead of just struggling to get by. It's also an example of the kind of public health project that'll ultimately take a lot of pressure off the overstretched NHS, by giving people accessible ways to take care of their own physical wellbeing. And it's also a bit of a vision of the kind of thing that London's shopping centres could and should do a lot more of in the future.
As brands move away from bricks and mortar retail, maybe we should all be coming together for an archery sesh or an art class, instead of to thumb through racks of cut-price garms or to buy a cup of BBQ-flavoured corn from one of Lewisham Shopping Centre's concession carts (although for the avoidance of doubt, those things are pretty great, too).