Tuesday 25 January 2011

Pepys Resource Centre

I've been waiting for a nice sunny day to get a cheery photo of Deptford Strand before posting this but since January seems unable to oblige, at weekends at least, I am obliged to post with the gloomy picture I took before Christmas.

The Pepys Resource Centre has been open for a few months already and although the scheme now seems to be gathering some momentum, it is still not really very well known outside of its immediate environs. In fact it's not even very well known inside its environs - one reader who lives on the Pepys estate only discovered it after it had been open several months.

The reason for its low profile is undoubtedly its location, which is also one of its great strengths, tucked as it is into the bottom corner of one of the old Navy buildings on the strand. Unless you live in one of the adjoining blocks or are a regular rider or walker along the Thames path, you are unlikely to pass this very welcoming library-cafe-community centre.

Last November the council heralded its opening thus:

Residents at the Pepys Estate, Lewisham are set to benefit from a new, multi-use resource centre boasting a new community library and a social enterprise computer business thanks to an innovative partnership between the Hyde Group and Lewisham Council.

The Pepys Resource Centre makes use of a previously empty space at the heart of the community and will offer a one-stop shop for residents looking for IT training, employment advice and support, library services and one-to-one health checks provided by an on-site health advisor.

Anchor tenant and local social enterprise, Ecocomputer Systems, will offer training in the recycling and refurbishment of computers, providing skills based learning for both volunteers and unemployed residents. The computers will then be made available to the local community at a much reduced cost.

From comments on a rather old post on Planet Pepys blog I understand that the space was previously a community centre run by local residents, but it seems that the initiative fell apart when some key members of the management committee moved away and remaining members either couldn't or wouldn't get it together to carry on. The presence of social enterprise Ecocomputer Systems will hopefully provide the impetus for this new initiative to continue and maybe even thrive.

So what does it do?

There's a very modest library set-up backed by Lewisham's library service and anyone with a Lewisham card can take books out. They also have half a dozen computer terminals that can be used for free, and since basic IT training is one of Ecocomputer Systems' remits, you can get help with using them too.

Feast cafe offers hot drinks, cakes and snacks and you can sit in one of the large windows watching the world go by on the river and the Thames path.

The centre also hosts a number of regular events; upcoming ones include a coffee afterenoon on Thursday at 1pm, arts and crafts for the under fives on Wednesday at 1pm, and a knit and natter session on Monday 31st at 10am. Join the Facebook page for full information. The Facebook page also has some nice pictures showing the cheery interior of the centre, and some of the events they have held so far.

Bring your old computer, printer or scanner down to be recycled; they also accept batteries and mobile phones among other things and I believe also do computer repairs. Darren Taylor who runs Ecocomputer Systems might become a much more familiar figure in months to come as he is enthusiastic about using this initiative as a model for keeping libraries going in places such as New Cross where the council wants to close facilities.

The centre is open Monday to Friday from 10 till 6, Saturday 10 till 4.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Douglas Way redevelopment

Construction has started - on schedule! station contractors take note! - on the redevelopment of Douglas Way and the market square as the final part of the council's North Lewisham Links work, which includes Margaret McMillan Park, Fordham Park and the New Cross Underpass.

As a market customer and local resident I welcome the improvements, although I know that not all of the proposals have gone down well with market traders. Plans to change the layout of the stalls on the entrance from Deptford High Street, putting them back to back rather than face to face, attracted criticism from stall holders, and are also subject of debate in our household. Personally I find the narrow passage between the stalls quite annoying and restrictive - it only takes one buggy or mobility scooter to cause a blockage and the extent to which some stall holders spread their wares across this route makes the situation worse.

Yes it's possible to nip down behind the stalls if you don't have a lot of shopping but it's a very narrow thoroughfare and difficult to pass if someone comes the other way. With the stalls back to back, the space for pedestrians would be expanded and the access to the shops would also be improved.

The geezer is with the stallholders, he acknowledges that they will miss the banter and are perhaps worried about missing out on trade as pedestrians are forced to choose one route or another.

BDP's report on the public consultation process (woefully short and not very well publicised it has to be said) is published on the Lewisham Council page I've linked to above. The comments from stallholders have been acknowledged in the notes, but the response notes that no final decision has been made. The renderings show the stalls back to back:

The report puts it this way:
Market Stall Layout
Market stalls will not be placed directly against adjacent walls for ease of access and to reduce the potential for noise. It is proposed to stop people walking behind stalls between the stalls and the wall, to reduce noise and activity near adjacent properties. Market stalls will also be arranged to promote trading, not to impede pedestrian movement and to make market operations safer and easier.

It adds: The consultation process now continues and all traders are being approached regarding the new layout to Douglas way and the Giffin Square.

Here are a few of the renderings that are on the banners hanging up around the construction site along with the proclamation 'Deptford is changing'. As we examined the banners on the way past last night we did have to giggle a little at the fact that the changes seem to involve a dramatic impact on the racial diversity of our local population. The work is due for completion in April.

Monday 17 January 2011

The Duke

Ever since its reincarnation a few years back from a rather pokey, scruffy and unfriendly local pub into its present form, I've been wanting to get to like the Duke. The interior, which was opened up and refurbished into a rather standard gastro-pub format is nevertheless light and comfortable, the tables and bar are clean, and the staff are friendly.

But it's had a chequered history with the Dame's household. Sometimes it is so empty that the size of the place overwhelms the few customers and it can feel rather desolate. Once we were badly overcharged on a round of drinks but were already slightly tipsy and didn't realise until we got home. It was tagged as 'the expensive pub' for at least six months. The last time we went (about a year ago) the food was mediocre and certainly didn't live up to the price tag.

However I do like variety when I eat out, hence I'm always willing to give places another go, especially when they are within walking distance. In search of a venue for our Sunday lunch we decided to give the Duke another chance, rather than our usual standby of the Royal Albert or the Dog & Bell.

They got off to a good start with the beers on offer - Sharp's Doom Bar was one of two real ales on the hand pumps, and one of my all-time favourites, and it was kept and served perfectly. The bar was not particularly busy, with four or five groups of diners spread through the large room, but it had just about enough buzz to make it seem more lively than usual.

On Sundays the pub serves a roast dinner alongside the usual menu, and you can dine there till 5pm, which is always good for folks like me who like a big, late breakfast. Last weekend's offering was Gloucester Old Spot pork, or corn-fed chicken breast, both served with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, veg and gravy and each costing £11.10. The full menu includes a range of options including fishcakes and fish pie, as well as veggie dishes such as butternut squash risotto, or curried chickpea burger, all around £8 or £9.

Normally I would choose roast chicken over roast pork, but only if it was a leg or half a chicken - something on the bone, rather than a breast which can easily be dry and overcooked. So the pork it was.

The wait was reasonable - about 10 minutes before our food was delivered - and the presentation was fine. My dining companion declared that the portions were not large enough and he could have eaten it all again, but then he does have a healthy appetite, especially when it comes to a roast dinner. The Yorkshire pudding is hiding most of the meat on this picture, but in fact there was a reasonable amount on the serving. If anything, I could have done with a little more veg.

And what of the food? Very pleasant, and a massive improvement on what I had been expecting, given our previous dining experience. The meat was very tasty and nicely cooked - a couple of pieces were a bit dry, as if they had been sitting under a hot lamp too long, but there was ample gravy to moisten it. What's more there was not a scrap of gristle on my plate at the end of the meal - and that's a definite plus as far as I'm concerned.

The carrots and cabbage were tasty and fresh, and the roasted parsnips were ok, but could have done with a bit more sign that they had seen a roasting tray, being a little bit limp and soft.

The Yorkshire pudding was a revelation, so much so that I have already decided I'm ordering toad in the hole next time. Sweet, crispy and fresh, dramatically different from the ready-made variety that pubs normally dump on the plate with such little care. I could have eaten two more for pudding. With cheese.

Sadly the meal was rather let down by the potatoes - yes they were roast potatoes, but not as we know it. They were boiled new potatoes that had subsequently been roasted whole so their skins were browned but there was no element of crunchiness to them.

The whole point to chopping large potatoes into smaller pieces, putting them in the boiling water and slightly overcooking them, is to get the fluffy edges. When you roast them in the top of your oven, they drink up the oil and turn all crispy! Crunchy roast potatoes to go with the tender meat, with gravy slopped on top of them. It works, don't mess with it!

That being said, the disappointing spuds did not put me off going back, so it looks like we might add the Duke to our regulars for week-night meals and perhaps the odd Sunday roast. I'd like to try out the puddings, especially the plum crumble, so perhaps we'll be going back sooner rather than later.

The pub has also just started hosting live music, with the Duke Box presenting jazz on Thursday nights with a special meal deal, and bands on Saturday nights from 9pm, all events are free.

The Duke
125 Creek Road
020 8469 8260

Petition against proliferation of betting shops

The 2005 Gambling Act gives local authorities very limited powers to refuse Gambling Licenses and Planning Permission to large betting chains. When councils and local communities try to prevent new betting shops opening, companies appeal at great cost to the local authority – at a time when cuts to their funding make this impossible. The industry is prepared to bankrupt councils to get an even greater hold on our high streets.

Bookmakers are currently targeting the poorer areas in our cities and towns. In some cases there are as many as 12 or 13 in one street. In mad competition with each other, they bid for any freeholds available in the certain knowledge they will be granted licenses. Often they are clustered together and are the cause of antisocial behaviour and theft, making parts of a street a no-go area. They take advantage of people in desperate financial circumstances and are encouraging gambling addiction in those who can least afford it, threatening the futures of our communities' children.

We are calling on the government to change the Act and give local communities a greater say over their high streets. There should be a separate planning class for betting shops to give councils and residents the power to determine their location and overall numbers. Presently councils cannot deny an application on the basis of the number already open in their area.

This isn't anti-betting, it's about communities being able to have a say about their environments.

We, the undersigned, call on Parliament to amend the Gambling Act 2005, to give local authorities greater powers to refuse Gambling Licenses and Planning Permission to betting companies.

We demand a separate planning class for betting shops that gives councils and residents the power to determine their location and overall numbers.

Sign it here.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Betting shops update

Sue over on Crosswhatfields blog has posted an excellent analysis of the current situation with licensing of betting shops and the difficulties faced by councils in turning down such applications.

An older post on the same blog details how you can object to the application by Betfred to open another betting shop on the High Street.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Recommended reads

The traditional January cold prevents me from doing any proper blogging. Luckily there's plenty of other top quality bloggers around the Deptford area who are contributing to the local debate while I'm laid low.

Tomorrow the Albany has a special event to mark the 30th anniversary of the New Cross fire, a dreadful tragedy which had a huge impact on the local community and repercussions that went far wider.
Transpontine has written a thorough and moving post, examining the event in detail, and putting it into shocking context; a sober reminder of how much more pervasive racist attitudes were only 30 years ago. Some of the footage from the BBC4 documentary is particularly harrowing, not just in its descriptions of how the victims died, but also in terms of the abuse and isolation suffered by survivors, their families and the black community in the wake of the fire.

New Cross is also the focus for my second recommendation - but this time a much lighter subject matter. On her Food Stories blog, Helen has interviewed Yianni Papoutsis from Meatwagon and Scott Collins of Capital Pub Company, about the temporary burger bar that is currently installed in the upper storey of the Goldsmith's Tavern. I particularly like Yianni's recommendation for food in Peckham - he is a great fan of Manze's pie & mash shop. I can't say I'm a fan of pie, mash and liquor in its traditional cockney form - but the Geezer is a firm fan and Manze's in Peckham is apparently the best there is. (Incidentally I'm afraid he doesn't really recommend either of Deptford's pie shops).

(Updated later: OMG they're all at it now. Here's Will Self's typically unconventional take on Manze's in Tower Bridge Road)

Hollow Legs and A rather unusual Chinaman have both reviewed the food at the Meateasy.

Finally if you want to add to the debate concerning Co-op vs Sainsbury's vs Marks & Spencers vs the Royal Hill Lovelies (not a dance troop) etc, hop over to the Greenwich Phantom and spill it all out.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Excaliber estate

Deptford-based illustrator Sarah McIntyre has posted some great photographs of the Excaliber prefab estate in Catford, which is threatened with demolition by Lewisham Council. She's also done a short video interview with local campaigner Jim Blackender.

This follows just a few days after (perhaps prompted by?) a comment piece by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian demanding that the estate be saved.

When I first moved to London I had friends who rented a prefab right in the middle of Greenwich's posh streets - it was one of three on a scrap of land on the corner of Royal Place and George Street. Hardly conceivable these days, and in fact it wasn't too long before the council demolished them and built the modern houses that are there to this day.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Our secret street

Deptford has once again attracted the attention of the Beeb. Last time it was the Tower - a rather contentious documentary about the tower block on the Pepys Estate that Lewisham Council sold off to developers. This time it's in the sights of documentary makers putting together a series called 'Our secret streets'. The series will focus on six different streets in London, one of which will be Deptford High Street.

The researchers have been in touch with local bloggers to try and get the word out about their programme and to gather anecdotes and information from residents and local people.

Here's what the website says:

In 1886 the philanthropist and social researcher, Charles Booth, began a truly epic project to map the social conditions of every street, every house and every family in the whole of London.

It took Booth 17 years, thousands of interviews, hundreds of notebooks and a team of experienced researchers. The resulting work was the most detailed and breathtaking record of a city and its inhabitants ever completed.

Taking Booth’s remarkable social maps as its starting point, this major new series will update the most comprehensive social survey ever conducted.

Bringing over 120 years of history to life, we will tell the powerful stories of six different London streets. Who once lived here? What was life like for them? How did the street change?

Our Secret Streets will consist of six episodes on BBC2 and will form part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

We are at the very early stages of what will be a long and extensive project, and are currently delving through Booth’s archives, searching for stories of your streets.

Jaime Taylor at Century Films is keen to speak to people who have knowledge and memories of the area:
The questions we want to ask are quite straightforward: How long have/did you live in Deptford? Do you know anything about the history of the high street? What are your memories of the pubs and shops there? And if you lived close to the street, or knew the residential streets nearby, do you remember them before they were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s? Even if you no longer live in Deptford, if you used to know it well, we'd really like to hear from you.  

You can email me at historystreet [at] centuryfilmsltd.com or give us a call on 020 7378 6106.

As it happens, your local bloggers are also keen to hear your stories, and we are inviting readers to post their comments on the blog, or email them to us so that we can post them up. With the whole of Deptford High Street to squeeze into a single programme it's likely that a lot of the anecdotes will not make the final cut and we'd like to offer everyone the chance to have their voices heard as well as helping Jaime out with research for the programme.

Marmoset has already made a start over on Crosswhatfields blog and I'm inviting people to do the same here. You can post directly in the comments (with an email address if possible) or email me at deptforddame at yahoo.co.uk

Friday 7 January 2011

The future face of Deptford Creek

Greenwich Council has given planning permission for two new developments on the eastern side of Deptford Creek which will continue to change the face of the Creek as we know it. Both developments are on Norman Road, and both are designed by architect BPTW (or bptw if you are no respecter of grammar, innit?).

With the Creek's banks already greatly despoiled by Creekside Village, and set to be further violated by the second phase of aforementioned development, it is difficult to offer any balanced critique of the two new developments that have to face our glass monstrosity. Actually in this context they look almost friendly and cuddly. Like a rabid dog might look, if it was put next to a deranged and hungry bear.

This rendering of the future view from Creek Road bridge gives a good indication of what we can expect of 30-52 Norman Road and Hilton's Wharf, which are on adjoining sites.

Hilton's Wharf will have some 85 apartments above 500sq m of commercial floor space and three live-work units.

30-52 Norman Road will also have 85 residential units, two live-work units and 1,250sq m of commercial floor space.

I'm pleased to note that both developments will offer public access to the banks of the Creek, although the responsibility for building a footbridge across to the other side and improving cycle and pedestrian links falls not to them, but to Creekside Village phase 2.

While the architecture is not inspirational, it is at least vaguely human in scale and finishes. BPTW was also the architect for the redevelopments on the Pepys estate and Childers Street; the former very successful in my opinion, the latter moderately so. They also designed the affordable housing element of the massive 'Greenwich Wharf' - I cynically presume that's the units at the back with no river view.

Thursday 6 January 2011

New Cross news round-up

The mystery of the epic landscaping fail outside the Waldron Centre in New Cross is partially solved by Kieran Long's article in the Evening Standard yesterday.

If you can get past Long's staggeringly patronising and pointless intro (I suggest skipping the whole of the first para and don't bother with paras 4 or 5 either) you will eventually find some factual information and comment buried within the glib cliches he rolls out. When Long actually writes about the project itself, he and I do find some points of agreement, specifically in admiring the building and being disappointed by the landscaping. According to Long's article, the abandoned corner of the site is earmarked for a residential building with a cafe at the base, although there is no intimation of how this is to be funded, when it is likely to materialise or why it is taking so long.

Meanwhile Transpontine has been trying out the NHS walk-in clinic at the centre, and has good things to say about it.

Someone who does not need persuading of the delights of south London is food blogger Lizzie, aka Hollow Legs. Her blog reports on the imminent arrival at the Goldsmith's Tavern in New Cross of a temporary 'chop-up' eaterie upstairs for a few weeks starting on 12 January. Top quality burgers will be served up for a few weeks by the Meatwagon crew, to raise money to replace the wagon that was stolen in December.

Meat lovers are recommended to get down there sharpish, 'Meateasy' will only be open for a few weeks until 'some time in March'. The Goldsmith's Tavern will subsequently become the New Cross House after a refurb by new owners Capital Pubs.

Monday 3 January 2011

Pepys Park

Just as schools began their long summer holidays in July, Pepys Park was fenced off for regeneration work to start. I particularly remember this as I thought at the time it was a shame that local kids would have to go elsewhere to play during their holidays. What I didn't realise at the time was that the work was going to take so long!

True the new park is much changed from the previous one, which was basically a square of grass with trees round the edge, a few benches, and a single path around the circumference, but I really can't understand what took so long.

The boundary fence is gone and there are a lot more paths crossing the site, making it easier for people to enter and traverse the park. As well as a grassed area for ball games, there is a hard court too, which was in use both times I visited the park and should offer greater flexibility during the winter months.

A fitness trail around the outskirts of the park adds another dimension, although I did think that the little signs were rather pointless - surely they should show how you are meant to use the equipment, rather than just having a picture showing what you can already see?

New picnic tables and benches will give people somewhere to sit and enjoy the surroundings in warmer months, and there is a childrens' play area in one corner.

However I admit I'm rather mystified by the liberal use of sticky things - slanty poles, coloured poles, random poles....what's it all about? I wasn't keen on the wooden posts used as landscaping in Margaret McMillan park but compared to this effort, I would say the posts in Margaret McMillan park are classy and well-considered.

Again I fear that they will not be particularly durable and could be vandalised quite easily. Let's hope I'm proved wrong.

The contractors also seem to have over-ordered the sand and gravel that has been used on the new footpaths. Cycling along the path that is a direct link on the cycle route, I found it rather gravelly - almost to the point that I was worried about skidding. The side paths, meanwhile, are about an inch deep in sand which led me to abandon my effort to explore them on my bike. I guess the extra sand and gravel will wash away over time but until then, be cautious if you are on two wheels.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Betfred application for Deptford High Street

Happy new year? It doesn't look like it; Crosswhatfields has news that Betfred has put in an application for a betting shop licence for the former Halifax premises on Deptford High Street.

This depressing news was almost inevitable - as a former bank there's no change in use involved so barely a tick in the box is required from the licensing committee in order to provide us with our tenth eleventh betting shop.(updated thanks anon in the comments who can clearly count better than me!)

Please read the two posts on Crosswhatfields and consider writing to the council to object. However I do feel that this issue needs a wider campaign; stronger powers for councils have been mooted but may come too late for Deptford. Suggestions welcome either in the comments box or email me at the address in the sidebar.