Saturday 20 December 2014

Priapic surge for Creekside East

A year on since I wrote about the plot of land that forms the western section of 'Creekside Village' being sold off to 'rental specialist' Essential Living there are signs that a planning application to Greenwich Council is in the offing.

Earlier this month a 'public consultation' event took place at the Laban Centre - I wasn't able to attend but the boards from that event are available to view on the developer's website for your delectation. 

At the time the developer stated it was planning to develop two towers - one of 16 storeys and one of 11 - on the parcel of land within Greenwich Council's planning remit which borders Deptford Creek. You may remember that a previous planning application for a larger piece of land straddling the border was never approved by Lewisham Council although it was waved through by Greenwich's carefree councillors.

It was with a weary sigh and a massive wave of deja vu that I read on the new boards that these towers have experienced a priapic surge with the 'landmark' building next to Creek Road thrusting skywards by another five floors, to more than 21 storeys. The two blocks will contain 249 residential units, all owned by the developer and rented out. 

Petty I know, but it's become something of a challenge for me, to read through these 'consultation' documents and display boards and work out how the marketing effort has been directed. Whether it's in terms of annexing all the adjacent green space to make your development seem more environmentally acceptable, creating renderings from particular angles to make your tall buildings look smaller, or using language that softens the harsh reality of a proposal.

In the case of Greenwich* Creekside East it's a mixture of these, but I was particularly taken by the description of the two towers. They are not just described by the number of floors or the height, they are a 'tall, slender block of 21 residential levels' and a 'family block of ten residential levels'. From the angle in the image above you might debate 'slender' (definition: gracefully thin) but that argument doesn't pan out when you look at the other renderings and the actual plans.

As regards the 'family block', from what I can glean it's a block of two and three bed apartments which is described thus because it has a nursery, 'grow your own' rooftop allotments, soft play area and 'Essential Living managed pets corner' (is this somewhere for dogs to poop or will it actually have animals in it? And if the latter, will there be staff to look after them full time or will the concierge just come and chuck a few carrots into the rabbits cages once a day, leaving them at the mercy of all comers the rest of the time? My mind boggles on so many levels at this concept..).

The provision of additional communal storage on each floor and specific design aspects of the apartments such as large storage cupboards and oversized balconies are highlighted as other family-friendly benefits, but I can't help thinking these are fairly basic benefits that all apartment dwellers should have access to. In fact you probably need them even more if you are a group of single people or couples sharing a three-bed apartment because it's the only way you can afford it.

Even the use of 'residential levels' is significant here, because it does not tell the full story. Both blocks have non-residential floors, so both will presumably be higher than the wording suggests. Crafty huh?

The marketing rhetoric also claims that '72% of the site is external open space, including public realm and childs play'.

I gazed at this plan for some time, trying to persuade my mind that this could somehow be the case.
Perhaps the (residents only) rooftop terraces on top of the two buildings are being counted in this open space? 'Deceitful' is probably too strong a word but you get my drift.

Meanwhile the graphic chosen to show the two new buildings in situ includes the tower in the previous (unapproved) planning application, presumably there to make the proposed structures look smaller. While you're looking at this image, don't forget to keep the word 'slender' in mind for the yellow building on the left. I know, it's tricky.

Proposals for the public space at least have the potential to be a positive addition to the existing public realm in 'Creekside Village' which is sterile and unwelcoming. Public access to the banks of the creek should be a given for all developments along here, and ensuring that they are properly joined up, rather than being discrete sections of pathway that will be under-used because they don't lead anywhere, should be a long-term goal for both planning authorities.

Intertidal terracing is proposed on the creek to provide a range of different habitats for plants, birds and so on; I don't profess any detailed knowledge of such matters but at least it seems to be thoroughly considered and in tune with what the Creekside Centre considers appropriate for new developments on the creek. I suspect the building heights are another matter.

* Yes I know. Fight it out among yourselves.

Update: In the comments Marilyn has pointed out that the land on the Lewisham side of the boundary is also being brought forward for redevelopment with developer Kitewood branding it Creekside Future East and posting notice of 'public consultation' events on 10 and 12 January at the Laban Centre. They have clearly been taking soundings locally since the current website makes no attempt whatsoever to claim that the site is in Greenwich - of course this could well be swept away when the marketing starts.

From the renderings on the website it looks as if they intend to put forward a carbon copy of the proposals that were previously approved by Greenwich Council but not by Lewisham - whether attitudes among the planners have changed since the original application remains to be seen. If both schemes are approved in their current forms, it will make for a very disjointed and discordant collection of buildings along the creek - you would hope that some degree of collaboration between the two boroughs can be achieved. 

Unfortunately it seems unlikely, given than the two boroughs are already in disagreement over whether environmental impact assessments are necessary for the two adjoining sites. Greenwich Council is applying the relevant planning guidance in its most basic form, saying that the Creekside East site is not big enough in area to require an environmental impact assessment. 

Just over the border, Lewisham Council believes an EIA is required for Creekside Future East, given that the development proposes a significant change in intensity of use on the land, the fact that it is likely to be contaminated land which poses a potential risk to Deptford Creek, and taking into account the cumulative impact of other developments in the area. 

Hmm, as you were then. 

Sunday 30 November 2014

Deptford Creek bridge close to completion

The new bridge across Deptford Creek has been swinging to and fro over the last couple of weeks, as engineers commission the mechanical and electrical equipment and operators are trained in its use. When I passed by on Friday it looked like lots of snagging was under way on the structure, and I've been told that handover to the council is imminent.

The bridge designer Flint & Neill made a nice little film showing the bridge swinging across for the first time - ooh the excitement of whether it's going to slide smoothly into place and the two ends are going to meet properly as it reaches the other side! (Spoiler - it does!)

According to one of my sources, who lives in a flat with a view of the bridge, it looks 'quite sexy' with its lights on. It's a very pretty little bridge alright, but I think 'sexy' is taking it a bit far. All the same it's much more fulfilling than watching property investors talking about selling Deptford. 

Tuesday 25 November 2014

'Rise' marketing leaves Deptford unimpressed

'Rise' developer Cathedral Group seems to have waded into a shit storm in its cosy link up with overseas property investment company IP Global, which bought up all 120+ flats in the development being built next to Deptford Station and is currently flogging them off-plan to its overseas investors.

The property company's promotional video for the Deptford scheme - aka the Deptford Project - in which Martyn Evans, Creative Director of Cathedral Group explained how important the link-up was, because IP Global had such a good knowledge of the Asian market, was pulled from IP Global's You Tube account this morning after complaints from local residents*.

Until this morning IP Global had two films on its website - a 360 degree panorama of Deptford (which claims to have been made using 'drone technology' but looks more like they filmed it from the tower crane), and a promotional film with IP Global CEO Tim Murphy telling all that is great about investing in Deptford - now only the former remains. (See update below for a link to the film elsewhere)

(Believe me you didn't miss much in the latter, but you can probably get a good idea by reading IP Global's wincingly tired piece about Deptford that they published earlier this year when the deal was struck with Cathedral).

There has already been scrutiny of the marketing of these residential units, with Crosswhatfields blog pointing out last month that they were being pitched for more than half a million quid as buy to let investments.

Last week I came across the offending video, and tweeted about it with my comments:

The video was shared on various other places, including the Quay Point and Facebook's I Love Deptford group, where it caused mighty outrage and came to the attention of local resident Maria Livings.

She was so incensed she wrote to Cathedral Group CEO Richard Upton to complain about the company's crass marketing and make some very salient points about the housing issues that dominate our local area.

'The idea that this project is being sold to investors and that the coolness of artists is being touted as the reason why property prices are about to hurtle still further up is completely sickening. None of the interesting, creative people who have contributed to the vibrant culture of the area are able to afford to buy a home and their work spaces are being eliminated wholesale as developers buy up all the land to create yet more unaffordable housing. 

I am an artist/designer and have lived and worked in the area for over 30 years. Although I initially lived in a council flat on Pepys Estate I was able eventually to get a shared ownership home in which I still live. As a result of being part of this fascinating creative community I have become quite successful and have developed a thriving business. 

However, even though I am relatively well off there is no way I could afford to buy a home at today's prices. Where are the people who work in a coffee bar/Sainsbury's/school/garage in Deptford supposed to live? I don't suppose anyone at Cathedral knows or cares. 

You may live in a parallel Universe where moral and social considerations are not an issue and therefore have no interest in anything except making money. However you must know that public opposition to this tastelessly marketed development will be strong. You have made no friends amongst local people and ensured that the cool, friendly vibe that you are using to sell your development will be greatly diminished as a result of your poor grasp of the socio-economic realities of the area.'

The offending video was taken down this morning and Maria has been invited to meet with Cathedral Group to discuss her concerns. She is asking others to join her in writing to the council and meeting with Cathedral - details on the Facebook group.

Cathedral's strong presence in south east London, with developments such as The Mvmt (eugh) on Norman Road, and Morden Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula, not to mention their ongoing efforts to project a cuddly, fluffy not-like-every-other-property-developer image, presumably make them particularly sensitive to this kind of criticism.

Let's hope they aren't crass enough to try and exploit the meeting to their own advantage - the cynic in me suspects that they may see it as a good opportunity to get a well-respected local creative on their side, although something tells me Maria isn't the type to be taken in.

* Update: The film is still available for now on You Tube. If you enjoy watching a property developer salivating over the prospect of making shitloads of money, get there quick. But don't say I didn't warn you. 

Saturday 1 November 2014

Revised plans for 'the Wharves' redevelopment on Oxestalls Road

Three years after the original plans for The Wharves got planning permission, a new planning application is being drafted for submission to the council early next year. The site, which is bounded by Evelyn Street, Oxestalls Road and Grove Street, has now changed hands and the new owners, Lend Lease, seem intent on wringing every last penny out of the land, with little regard for the neighbours or the local community. 

A few weeks ago they held 'public consultation' to showcase their new ideas - the presentation boards can be downloaded from their website here if you missed it. 

I've pulled out a few of the fundamental changes I noted, unfortunately mostly of them make the scheme much less appealing from my point of view. And as normally happens when developers and their marketing folks get together, and there's things they don't want to tell you straight, you really have to read every sentence to find out what it is they are trying to keep from you. Which is nice, since otherwise the money they lavish on these marketing consultants would be wasted.  

Here's the brief version for those of you with limited attention span or short on time:

Previously 905 residential units - now 1100

Previously 18 storeys maximum height - now 30

Previously a large facility for Ascot Cabs - now a 'creative hub' (*sigh*)

Previously a commitment to retain the Victoria pub - now 'considering options' for it

Previously a water feature to mark the route of the former Surrey Canal - now a 'greened' path

Previously public space - now private courtyards

And my favourite - buried away in the text without any numbers for those who are skim reading:

Previously a maximum of 370 parking spaces - now 'we are looking at providing up to 1 parking space per dwelling' plus extra for work and retail units - i.e. more than 1100 parking spaces. 

Before we get into the nitty gritty, see the rendering of the new scheme above. In the traditional way, the rendering includes every other tall building in the vicinity, and is arranged from a suitable viewpoint so as to make the new development's own towers seem modest even at 30 storeys.

The second thing you should note if you are an illustrator wanting to make a living out of doing renderings for developers, is that you must take ownership of every scrap of green in the vicinity whether it is within in the boundaries of the development or not. So the inclusion of Deptford Park and Pepys Park on the picture make this new development look like it's really green.

In fact this plan probably gives a better indication as you can more easily see the boundaries of the site. All the brown areas between the buildings are 'private courtyards' - inaccessible to the public and raised above street level to accommodate podium parking at ground level. Most of the other green bits are the oversize trees that they seem to be planning for the whole length of Evelyn Street. Better make those London planes, to cope with the appalling pollution they will be subjected to. 

The two images above show the original building heights (top) and the proposed new building heights. The 'feature' buildings at the corners have shot up - in the case of the one on the corner of Grove St and Dragoon Road, it has had an additional 12 storeys plonked on top of it, rising from 18 to 30 storeys in total. Even by the standards of Convoys Wharf this seems like an excessive increase.

Perhaps this building has had all the extra units lumped on it because it is in the first phase of the development - phasing is shown above. I seem to remember that Lewisham Council kindly offered to compulsorily purchase the land in phase 3 on behalf of the developer, which I struggle to get my head around, in particular the financial and moral implications. They are also doing a similar deal on the Surrey Canal Village development. I always thought compulsory purchase orders were designed for major transport links or other 'public betterment' schemes, not just a means to enable developers to make a profit out of land they don't yet own. Call me old-fashioned etc...

The move to try and shoehorn as many units and car parking spaces onto a development site does not surprise me; it's pure and simple greed. Naturally they will try and justify it all with 'solving London's housing crisis' but unless these flats are going on sale at less than £100k then I'm sorry to say it is unlikely to work.

It's the mean little things that really depress me - the downgrading of the public space provision from a number of permeable squares among the residential buildings to 'green verges' along the edges of the main roads around the boundaries of the site (yes really!) and from an imaginative water feature along the line of the former Surrey Canal to a 'linear park' without water. I would have loved to see something like the water feature that leads into Canada Water replicated here, but I was told firstly that 'there were concerns about safety' (?) and when I challenged this, was given another reason that was so lame I can't even remember it.

The suggestion that the former Victoria pub - the only building of any character within the development - might not 'need' to be retained was also depressing and indicative of the basic mindset of Lend Lease. I hope that responses from the consultation will prompt the developer to reconsider, and if not, any proposal to demolish it will be challenged by the council. There's a lack of pubs in the area and with new housing due to be built right next door, surely this is the perfect opportunity to bring it back into use?

There's no firm commitment on 'affordable' housing ('affordable' being a relative concept and in all honesty only translating as 'slightly cheaper') - the documents suggest the proposed 21% may be retained, but I'm betting this will be revised after the developers have done their mysterious 'viability' calculations and found they can make more profit if they sell their units for higher prices.

Friday 31 October 2014

Deptford Broadway 'improvement' proposals

TFL has announced its proposed 'improvements' to the Deptford Broadway/Deptford Church St junction of the A2; full details and the consultation page are up on its website.

Campaigners have been trying to get this junction improved for several decades so TFL's consultation is well overdue.

The proposal to add signal-controlled pedestrian crossings across three of the four main arms of the junction is welcome, but why has the opportunity not been taken to relocate the existing toucan crossing next to Deptford Bridge station to a position where it might actually be useful, at the junction itself? TFL claims it rejected the idea 'because of junction capacity and low pedestrian flows'.

I wonder if it has low pedestrian flows because it is in a place where no-one wants to use it? People may find it more convenient to risk crossing at the junction itself because that's the route they want to take.

And the provisions for cyclists, which include 'advisory' cycle lanes and no measures to reduce vehicle speeds, have already been criticised by Lewisham Cyclists as  'seriously rubbish'.

It's not easy to re-imagine a junction layout when you have become accustomed to its perils over the decades, but I only have to ask myself why I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have used the junction on a bike to know it is not a layout that makes me feel safe. I regularly go out of my way to avoid it, and I would consider myself a confident and experienced cyclist. I rarely attempt to negotiate it on foot because I don't need to, but I'm sure I would find it seriously annoying if it was part of my regular route.

Just look at the layout on the plan - a cursory glance reveals the main problem with this junction.

Why does a junction connecting the vaguely dual-lane Blackheath Road to the definitely single-lane New Cross Road need so many traffic lanes? It balloons up into an enormous swollen racetrack - not just left and right turning lanes, but two lanes for the traffic going straight ahead, which then has to squeeze into a single lane within yards of the other side of the junction.

All this type of junction design does is encourage drivers to jostle for position as if they are at the start of a race, then roar away when the lights change in an attempt to jump ahead one or two vehicles. It creates the kind of space that encourages aggressive, competitive driving, a space in which cyclists are regarded as an inconvenience and expected to be safe in 'advisory' lines of paint in between the lanes.

Updated: Lewisham Cyclists have posted a full response to the plans on their website.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Silvertown Tunnel consultation

Transport for London has just launched consultation into its planned Silvertown Tunnel, which is intended to increase capacity for vehicles wanting to cross the Thames between east London and the Greenwich Peninsula.

There's plenty of talk about how the new tunnel would 'relieve congestion' and yet in the same breath, TFL also explains that it intends to impose charges on both the Blackwall Tunnel and the Silvertown Tunnel to 'manage demand' (as well as to pay for the new tunnel). Isn't this just an admission that building a new tunnel would generate so much additional traffic that the new tunnel would be congested as soon as it opened.

TFL has put together a fly-through film showing how the tunnel portals and the tunnel service buildings are intended to fit in the existing landscape and link into the existing roads.

What's missing from all the jazzy fly-throughs and optimistic predictions is any explanation of how the roads on either side of the river will cope with this extra traffic. With the 'bottleneck' at the tunnel supposedly removed, the congestion problem will simply move to other parts of the network, increasing congestion elsewhere - outside your front door, your child's school or your local park perhaps?

As we saw from local pollution monitoring earlier this year, levels of nitrogen dioxide are already well above recommended safe levels in many parts of Greenwich and Lewisham. With increased traffic from a new tunnel adding even more congestion, pollution levels will only get worse.

The fly-through produced by TFL offers visualisations of a tunnel with no traffic; campaigners at No to Silvertown Tunnel have created a more realistic version showing the current situation in the Blackwall Tunnel, which is likely to be recreated very rapidly in any new tunnel nearby.

You can find out more about their campaign on the website, including an analysis of the proposed scheme, and some suggested public transport alternatives.

Friday 10 October 2014

New shop fronts for Deptford High Street

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed the new shopfronts that have appeared along Deptford High Street.

Six shops have had their signs and shutters replaced using the tail end of the Outer London Funding bid that paid for the repaving works and other projects.

I don't believe this work was actually part of the original bid, and I'm not clear where the funding was diverted from, but it is certainly being paid for out of the money that was awarded to Deptford.

One of the regular gripes by those who care about the visual appearance and public realm quality of the high street is the damage to shop fronts caused by cheap 'improvements' which usually involve ripping out the old shop front and bunging in a roller shutter. This is often done at the lowest possible cost and by contractors whose only concern is the speed with which they can get the work done.

There's also ongoing problems with planning applications for changes that are not appropriate to a conservation zone (yes! Deptford High Street is a conservation zone!) such as internally illuminated signs and plastic-framed replacement windows. Many of these have got through in the past but happily the planners at the council are now more aware of the problem and seem to be taking greater note of new applications.

The new shop fronts are intended to showcase 'good design' for the high street and demonstrate the type of solutions the council would like to see applied whenever renovations are carried out.

In my opinion the designs have all been successful to some extent - even those which I consider too gaudy or disappointingly underwhelming have a solid and unified quality. I assume the shop owners were consulted on the designs and colour schemes, which presumably explains why they vary so much.

At the south end of the high street (above) the replacement signage and awning are a huge improvement on the awful gaudy plastic thing that used to scar this lovely building. I like the colour choice and it seems the designer of the sign made the best of a bad job, considering how many words had to be accommodated.

I admit I find the light green squiggles adorning each end a little distracting though, they do put me in mind of a diagram of the female reproductive system.

Next up is Divine - the colour choice might be more reminiscent of a high-viz cycling jacket than anything else, but at least the shop front is in muted colours and the simple design works well.

AK Continental Foods looks good when it's open but the shutter design makes it look quite fun even when it's closed. Not much thought seems to have been given to how the design would fit on the shutters - to be honest it looks a bit like one of my attempts - but it's cheerful and colourful so the end result is a positive one.

Down at the more subtle end of the scale is Fu Quing Chao Shi Chinese supermarket - auspiciously red, no surprise there, and very clean design. The new awning looks great too.

There's always one who wants to stand right out, and in this case it's Family Halal Butchers & Grocers with their gaudy yellow and red sign and even a yellow edging to the bright red awning. Considering they are sandwiched between the non-too subtle shouty awning of Housewives and their other bright yellow neighbour, it's none too surprising.

My favourite of all the shopfront redesigns is Ralph's green grocery which has a strong Farrow & Ball feel to it - not just the colours of the shop front and contrasting awning, but the lower-case shop name and understated design. I'm sure the Guardian would have a field day suggesting that it's an unmistakeable sign of gentrification although you only have to step inside to note the absence of wicker baskets or eggs displayed in beds of straw.

When the previous shopfront was removed, the original sill of the window on the first floor was revealed, leading for calls to redesign the shop sign and reinstate the window to its original level. The building (formerly Caxton House) apparently used to be a ladies school in the 1800s and is one of the more significant historic buildings on the high street, although there are probably many more than you might think. 

As far as I know, extra funding is being sought to adjust the shopfront accordingly, let's wait and see.

And finally, here's the latest new shopfront. As far as the new occupier goes, shame to see another 'chain' on the high street (although in reality it's a franchise) but apparently there are lots of people out there who think buying sandwiches by the foot is a good wheeze.

I'm of the opinion that there are much better sandwich options available on the high street, and the only time I went into a Subway I got rather confused by the aggressive questioning about filling options. I like the old-school method where the customer tells the sandwich maker exactly what they want and the sandwich maker puts aforementioned ingredients in the bread. Mind you I seem to remember it was a branch in the US so I was confused as to why I might want cheese in a ham sandwich, particularly since I was then asked to choose between four types of cheese, none of which sounded real, and all of which had been processed to exactly the same extent except for subtle differences in colour.

I suspect the new Subway will probably impact most on Percy Ingle's and Greggs' sandwich and hot food sales. Other branches seem to open late and I hope this one will too - it would certainly be good to see more places on the high street that open into the evening.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Lesoco's expensive rebrand thrown out after two years

There are times when I think I must be in the wrong job. 

Last week, further education newspaper FE Week revealed what I'd first heard several weeks ago, but which was confirmed when I glanced up at the big red brick building on Deptford Broadway as I passed it this evening and noticed this change.

Yes indeed, 'Lesoco' is no more.

If you weren't even aware of Lesoco in the first place, it's hardly surprising since it was only brought into being a couple of years ago after a major 'rebranding' exercise. The rebranding took place after Lewisham and Southwark Colleges (the latter judged 'inadequate' at the time) merged in 2012 and became Lesoco. Or LeSoCo as they liked to write it (*cringe*).

The piece in FE Week is interesting because it answers a question I'd been musing on - how much were 'consultants' paid to carry out this rebranding?

Almost £290k according to the results of FE Week's freedom of information request. 

The 'rebranding' was done by 'the world's most effective brand design consultancy' (according to its own website) Elmwood. Certainly effective at extracting payment for ageing cordage, perhaps. There was even a rather lame video made by another agency. 

Here's some of the guff that was written about the rebranding at the time: 

Elmwood chose the LeSoCo name as it blends the words Lewisham and Southwark, and was influenced by other amalgamated place names like New York’s Soho – a shortening of ‘South of Houston Street’. (Ah yes, of course that's relevant to a small college in south east London).

The visual identity depicts a folded page corner, which Elmwood says suggests ‘the building sense of anticipation that’s felt when you can’t wait to turn the page to your next assignment, your next module or the next chapter of your life’. (Oh good grief).

The graphic device surrounding the name uses an ‘L’ shape with the corner turned up, ‘revealing an exciting new future’, says Elmwood. The red and white colour palette was inspired by London iconography such as buses, post boxes and London Underground signage. 

Elmwood says, ‘At the heart of the LeSoCo vision is the strong belief that the two colleges united as one are greater than the sum of their parts, setting them apart from other London colleges through their mission to instill students with an enterprising spirit and equipping them with the skills they need for the future’.  (*guff detector goes into overdrive*)

Simone Davies*, LeSoCo director of marketing and communications adds, ‘The new branding reflects our aspirations for the future, it has signaled the beginning of the new: joining two organisations, post merger, in to one to create something new and exciting’.

Since the rebrand things have not gone well. Ofsted gave the merged college an 'inadequate' grade at the start of this year, and in June, principal Maxine Room 'stepped down' to be replaced by interim consultant principal Ioan Morgan.

It seems one of his first acts was to ditch the pointless name that was despised by staff and misunderstood by students. They have managed to re-use the expensive logo to bring it back to something that makes sense, but they are still stuck with a website url that makes little sense and presumably a whole load of other branded stuff that will have to be phased out. Not to mention a big hole in the finances.

*Update: I note that Simone Davies, director of marketing and communications, also left Lesoco in May of this year.

Deptford Fun Palaces

Next weekend (4 and 5 October) there's lots of free, family-friendly stuff going on in Deptford as the Albany and other community spaces create their own 'fun palaces'. 

It's all part of Fun Palaces 2014, a nationwide celebration of arts, culture and sciences which has been created to mark the 100th birthday of Joan Littlewood. Fun Palaces 2014 brings to life the vision she and Cedric Price created for spaces linking arts and sciences, entertainment and education. 

Across two days, a consortium of creative and cultural organisations in Deptford will host an array of free spectacles and activities, alongside the weekend’s central event Source (Sunday 5 October, 3pm), which brings to life an underground world of six forgotten rivers of London.

Created by two of the UK’s leading creative event companies Cirque Bijou and Nutkhut, Source is performed outdoors by circus, dance, theatre and cabaret artists and depicts historic moments connecting Victorian London to pioneering philanthropists, social reformers, artists, inventors and engineers.

The event ends in a 'bring-what-you-can' party in the Albany's main theatre. For more information see listings below or visit the website.

Make Believe Arts Giant Science Playground 
Deptford Lounge
Saturday 4 October, 12-4pm
Make Believe Arts is inviting children/families to create bunting and other crafty delights in preparation for the Giant Science Playground.

Sunday 5 October, 11am-4pm 
The whole family is invited to help solve a mystery of GIGANTIC propositions. Deptford was once the land of giants and the Ministry of Mysteries has unearthed some interesting findings, and the they need your help to work out how a giant from the past got sick!

Teatro Vivo Grimms’ Collecting Agency
Woodpecker Community Centre
Sunday 5 October, 11.45am 
Collecting stories is a family business for the Grimms, handed down through the generations - ever since their great great great great grandfathers, those famous brothers, heard the one about Hansel and Gretel. This year Grimms’ Collecting Agency will be popping up across London. On a mission to assess the state of the nation, the Grimms will be collecting stories. Your stories... Meet the Grimms and share your tales; who knows what you might inspire... Grimms’ Collecting Agency is a performance piece that will interact with a large audience, provide some one to one experiences and offer a performance of a brand new story each time it pops up!

Hunt & Darton Food Fight, 
Albany Garden
Sunday 5 October, 1pm 
Treated as seriously and adjudicated with the same respect as an Olympic sport the makers of Hunt & Darton Cafe bring you Hunt & Darton Food Fight.
Get ready to roll up your sleeves for some brutally brilliant food warfare. After a series of warm up workshops offering activity vital in your preparation to become a food fighter you will be ready to enter the arena. Take note of the rules and rigorous marking system, as there are unexpected ways to win. Perhaps you will be crowned ultimate champion, or be disqualified because your focus face was insincere, maybe you’ll secure additional points with legwork that deemed as beautifully absurd’, or maybe one of the meringues you threw caused the biggest and most spectacular splat. The rules are set, the pitch is painted and the food is prepared – Fight!

Dean Blunkell; Fibonacci Divine Principle
Sunday 5 October, 12.15pm & 13.15pm 
The performance starts with performers appearing and encouraging the audience to view the architecture, apprentices begin to place models of baroque style buildings while other performers mark out on the floor Fibonacci plans gradually a model cityscape is created under the direction of the architect. At the end the ensemble all dance the Fibonacci, created especially for the performance.

Khiyo; Raga to Reggae
Market Square
Sunday 5 October, Midday & 1pm 
Khiyo is a London band that gives Bengali heritage music a modern, fresh sound. Its radical interpretations draw from rock, folk, and Indian and Western classical music. Khiyo is gaining a reputation as a formidable world music band, performing at the Purcell Room for the Southbank Centre’s 2013 Alchemy Festival.

Stefano Di Renzo; Hold On
Giffin Square
Sunday 5 October, 1.30pm 
Hold on is a circus theatre show using slack rope as the base of the theatrical language, exploring the relationship between a man and the system that governs his life.

Cirque Bijou and Nutkhut 
Market Square
Sunday 5 October, 3pm
When London’s sewers and underground system were first created, six tunnellers were sent underground in a secret mission to find and save the sources of London’s rivers before they became buried forever. Now, 158 years later, during building works for London’s new super-sewer, these curious long-forgotten tunnellers emerge, travelling with their giant mobile water-spurting laboratory in a burst of song, dance and acrobatic displays. Cirque Bijou and Nutkhut invite the people of Deptford to join them as they seek the Source, in a mobile, free, outdoor show for all the family. 

Deptford Community Party
The Albany
Sunday 5 October, from 4pm 
A Bring-What-You-Can Party for all the community with live music and performance

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Kingfishers in the Ravensbourne

Several months ago I stopped to chat to a fella who was hunkered down on a low seat overlooking the Ravensbourne right outside Elverson Road DLR station.

I spotted him first on my way into Lewisham - he was facing the bit of the river that's barely visible from anywhere else, where it runs in a wide concrete channel behind the rail station and into Brookmill Park. At first glance I thought he was fishing, and given the level of river water, that he was also hopelessly optimistic.

But on my way back I saw he was watching a camera on a tripod in the river bed, so I stopped to have a chat and he told me all about his kingfisher watch. He told me that he spent several hours a day trying to get good photos of them, that they covered large distances along the river looking for food, he showed me their favourite perches and told me other places that were good for spotting them.

I was surprised and delighted to hear that there were kingfishers on this stretch of the river - I've only ever seen them down at the end of the Creek although given their range it was probably the same ones! - and impressed by his dedication to something he had such a passion for.

Tomos and his kingfisher photos were featured on the One Show yesterday and you can watch the clip here.

Some reporters get all the best jobs - crouching in a concrete culvert for three hours wearing a bin bag. Luckily they did get a sighting!

Monday 22 September 2014

Deptford X: what is the value of art?

Our regular annual festival of contemporary art kicks off this Friday with a launch event at Faircharm and rounds off with a 'march for art' on 5 October, followed by Fred's traditional Art Quiz at the Dog & Bell.

In between there will be comics, a musical, film installation, music mash-up, book launch, dinner, workshops and a human chain. And maybe even some more traditional art too.

The theme of the festival, which this year is curated by artist Bob & Roberta Smith, is 'what is the value of art?' Bob & Roberta Smith will be working on a new painting and encouraging people to contribute to a collective response to this theme.

On the main programme I'm particularly looking forward to the film installation by Komori & Seo - not specifically because I am familiar with their work and feel an affinity for it, but because it will be in the crypt of St Paul's Church and you don't often get to go down there, especially if you are a confirmed heathen like myself.

Of course in days past it used to be the venue for parties hosted by the famous Father Diamond - such as the one featured in this film about Deptford (I've been looking for an excuse to post that for months). Ironically the comments in the film about St Paul's Church seeming to be aloof from the community could apply today. The frequently-locked gates might reduce litter and petty vandalism in the church grounds but do little to convey any welcoming message to the community.

But I digress.

Deptford X has a very healthy programme of fringe events, which I often find more fun and stimulating than the main events. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of the Dancing Builder (live feed here), so much so that I may have to make a special trip on the DLR to see him; anything with the word 'fanny' in it immediately attracts the attention of my juvenile nature, and considering this particular fanny will be in the Job Centre, it's even more attractive; while we're on the subject, I've already done the screw jokes, but there's always room to slip another one in, so let's not ignore Johnny's DIY; and just to demonstrate that I'm not just about smut, I am looking forward to seeing Mandy Williams' photographs of Kentish riverbed despoilation, which will be on show in the Creekside centre and appeal to my love of urban landscapes, warts and all.

There's a myriad of stuff on offer, as well as all the open studios and South London Art Map late Friday opening on the first day, so you're bound to come across something going on even if you don't mean to. You can't ignore it, and to be honest, you'd be foolish to miss it!

Deptford X

Printed programmes will be distributed around Deptford on Thursday or Friday, and available in PDF format here

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Open House Deptford and surrounds

There's plenty to do in Deptford and the local neighbourhood this weekend with Open House London giving us all an opportunity to see behind doors that are usually closed, or visit museums for free.

I'll be poking around the dusty corners of some places I've been to before, as well as having a nosy at a couple of the new kids on the block. It's exciting to see more and more local buildings taking part each year, even if it does mean lots of humming and hawing over what to do in a very limited time. How long till it becomes Open House month? (*crosses fingers*).

Top of my list for local must-sees is usually the Master Shipwright's House, which for the rest of the year is completely hidden from view unless you have a boat or know which way to look from the Thames Clipper as it sails past. This little beauty nestles snugly between Lower Watergate and the eastern extreme of the Convoys Wharf site - of course the house would formerly have been part of the site and was where the master shipwright of the Royal Dockyard would have lived.

Last year was great fun as they pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the dockyard receiving its royal charter - there were some handsome re-enactors showing off their weapons, and sticking it to the Convoys Wharf open house next door with a load of regular bangs.

Of course Convoys is not open this year; the developer having been granted planning permission has no need to schmooze the public and clock up brownie points with 'public involvement'. So it's tough if you wanted to enjoy their waterfront again.

The Lenox Project will be at the Master Shipwright's again this year with their restored Saker cannon - always a hit with the kids - and Twitter tells me they are also serving homemade cakes! Could be a nice spot for your morning coffee break or an afternoon tea.
Saturday, 10am-5pm.

While you are in the vicinity you might want to pop into the Rachel McMillan Nursery which is also open on Saturday from 10am till 2pm. The nursery was opened in 1914 by Rachel McMillan who pioneered the benefits of an open-air environment for children.

The local 'landmark' architectural buildings of Deptford - the Deptford Lounge, the Laban Centre and the Stephen Lawrence Centre - are taking part as usual, and are worth a look if you haven't had chance to see the bits behind closed doors, although the architect David Adjaye did refer to the latter as a 'failure' in a recent interview, perhaps an opportunity to make up your own mind this weekend?

There's a chance to go inside some of our less architecturally-distinguished buildings too, but in the case of the Seager Distillery Tower this has two major attractions.

The first is that when you are inside it, you can't see it! The skyline looks a little more peaceful and refined, even if you are looking across the road at Lewisham College.

The second attraction is that access is to the rooftop viewing area, and if it's a clear day, the views are magnificent despite being through the glass (and it's like an oven in there when it's sunny - I mean, who designs a 'roof terrace' like that?!).

Go and enjoy the views while you can, before someone builds more monstrous towers to block out the vista.

My local choices for those of an architectural bent would be the Richard Hoggart Building at Goldsmiths, which has been remodelled over the last couple of years with new landscaping out front.

In Greenwich the new University of Greenwich building on Stockwell Street is running tours on Saturday and Sunday, offering the chance to look around at the start of its first year of use.

Deptford Green School has tours for just a couple of hours on Saturday, so you need to time your trip carefully if you want to have a look around this one.

Meanwhile the developers of the major Surrey Canal Road redevelopment have got an onsite 'roof top box' (sounds glamorous!) where you can find out more about what's happening there. Presumably it's more than the Sweet FA I see every day when I ride past on my bike.

Monday 15 September 2014

Deptford Gardens festival

Next weekend sees a whole host of stuff going on in Deptford - as well as Open House London, about which I'll be posting later this week, there is the inaugural Deptford Gardens festival which is being held in the wildlife garden at the back of the old Tidemill school on Reginald Road.

The event will be a great opportunity to find out about community gardening opportunities in Deptford - not just the Assembly collective that runs the wildlife garden in Tidemill, but also the Wonky Prong garden on Crossfields Estate, the Sayes Court Garden CIC which will be based on the Convoys Wharf redevelopment, and the Deptford High Street Community Garden  on Coffey Street next to St Paul's Church.

The latter faces an uncertain future with the disappointing announcement this week of the go-ahead for construction of an access shaft for the Thames Tunnel on the same land. It seems that despite a long and well-argued campaign against the disruption this will bring to Deptford residents and local roads, the government has given permission for the shaft to be built

The press release says:

The Deptford Gardens Festival will be a great day of fun, food, music, games and performances to celebrate the great community gardens we have in the area. 

The festival kickstarts a project to get community gardeners in the area talking, promoting and sharing resources together. Join us for the day and see music and performances by the MADCAP coalition as well as creative workshops and games in the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden. 

Find out about other green spaces in the area, get a chance to meet the volunteers working at these spaces and sign up as a volunteer yourself, become a Deptford Gardener!

Saturday 20th September
Old Tidemill School, Reginald Road

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Deptford Cinema projector appeal and debut screening

I wrote briefly about the plans for a new community cinema a few weeks ago and since then the group has been busy with all kinds of things, most notably launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a digital projector.

As the website explains:
Deptford Cinema is a new, not-for-profit, volunteer-run cinema focusing on art film and experimental film. The cinema is opening in autumn 2014 and will be the Borough of Lewisham’s only cinema. We will be providing a 50-seat cinema space, a cafe/lounge area, and studio and darkroom facilities for film processing and workshops. Films will be shown with a digital projector as well as on 16mm and 8mm film reels. Our upcoming programme of content is directed towards supporting the local community and providing opportunities for experience and education in experimental film and art. We are currently hard at work building on-site and preparing everything for the opening of the Cinema.

The group wants to raise £6,000 to buy a projector for the cinema, which is based on Deptford Broadway right opposite the site of the former Odeon. So far they have managed to raise more than half of what they need, but there's still a way to go.

As with all Kickstarter campaigns, any money pledged by backers is only paid if the full amount is reached, and there's a range of rewards on offer including free tickets, tote bags, a book about the cinema or a year's membership. The Kickstarter page is here.

The first events in the new cinema space kick off at the end of this week with a 'debut DIY screening' on Friday 5th September at 7pm. This will be 'a lively evening of 16mm films and video works celebrating local film artists and community projects from near and far'.

On Monday 8th September they will be hosting a pub film quiz at the Amersham Arms. Quiz starts at 8pm, £2 entry per person.

And if you want to get involved, pop along to one of the public meetings that are held every Sunday at 4pm at the cinema.

Monday 1 September 2014

Oxestalls Road redevelopment: exhibition and discussion meetings

Consultation meetings and an exhibition about the proposed redevelopment of The Wharves on Oxestalls Road are scheduled for later this month, according to the newsletter which has just been published (link here).

The new owner of the site, Lend Lease, says that it is going to 'update the plans to respond to changes in the wider area and reflect current and future local needs' so watch out for extra housing and less employment space to follow the pattern elsewhere. Details of the previous plans can be found here, and here.  

I'll be keeping an eye on what they are intending to do with the lovely old pub on Grove Street that has been slowly decaying the last few years and was previously slated for restoration as a pub. 

Events are as follows:

Saturday 13 September 10am-4pm; drop-in exhibition and arts workshop
Riverside Youth Centre, Grove St

Tuesday 16 September 6.30pm-8.30pm; discussion session 1
2000 Community Action Centre, 199-201 Grove St

Thursday 18 September 11am-6pm drop-in exhibition
6.30pm-8.30pm discussion session 2
2000 Community Action Centre, 199-201 Grove St

Sunday 17 August 2014

Deptford High Street Community Garden

Next time you walk along Crossfield Street past St Paul's Church, take a peep through the hoardings that currently line it. 

The hoardings fence off a site that Thames Water's contractors are busy digging up, doing ground investigation work for the Thames Tideway Tunnel project which may well take over this green space for several years. If so, it will have a massive impact on traffic in and around Deptford, not to mention the disruption for the neighbouring school and local businesses and residents. The decision on whether this site will be chosen for an access shaft over an alternative on Millennium Quay is expected to be announced next month. 

Before the hoardings!
But right in the middle of all this work, the latest local community effort is taking shape. The willow circle, which was originally created to demonstrate the size of the shaft that Thames Water want to build, is now leased to the Deptford High Street Garden Association for creation of a community garden which will be open to all, at least for the time being.

The last couple of weeks, local volunteers have been building raised beds and filling them with soil, ready to plant them up with herbs, vegetables and flowers ready for the winter season.

Nine tonnes of soil was shifted by shovel and wheelbarrow, and four of the eight beds are now finished. 

The next step will involve fund-raising for additional soil, plants and seeds - all donations and suggestions welcome. The group will also be holding a planting party in the near future - watch out for updates or email to join the mailing list.

Friday 15 August 2014

The Job Centre

As a now-regular haunt for me, I've been meaning to write about the Job Centre pub for some time. It has comfortably found its place in my social life, being sufficiently convenient that I can just drop in for a pint at early doors, and close enough that I can roll home without much bother if I end up staying for 'just one more'.  

As with many of Antic's pubs it's a work in progress, and every time I went for the first couple of months I noticed one or two improvements. The most important - addition of the kitchen - still hasn't happened yet but we are regularly assured it won't be long.

Until then I'm happy to go for the beer alone - it's well chosen and well kept, there is always a selection of two or three available. Usually it's properly poured and topped up without the need to request it. As well as local brews such those from the Brockley Brewery, there have been several from Portobello Brewery and even one of my favourite out-of-town brews, Jaipur from Thornbridge. I always have to remember that more than one pint of the latter is not a good idea however, since is has the lethal combination of high ABV and the innocent, subtle flavour of something much weaker.

A lot has been written about Antic's choice of moniker for the pub - I would have preferred the Labour Exchange if I'm honest; while I don't have a problem with them naming the pub after what formerly occupied the building, I reckon giving it a more archaic name might have reduced the ammunition for those who think it was in bad taste.

That being said, the Job Centre was closed several years ago, despite protests from local people and a campaign run by the PCSU. The building has been empty/squatted/used by an art collective on a short-term lease ever since then, and it's great to have a new business that brings people to the high street in the evenings.

I'm personally very happy to have a new pub on the high street - not only does it double the number of such establishments in the high street, it also means there's one I actually want to patronise now.

All the guff that has been written about it being a hipster joint is nonsense - I'm a regular customer and every time I go in there I see one or other of the locals, from shop keepers and market stall holders to former regulars at the Royal Albert who now have a more convenient watering hole. It does have its share of moustachioed scooter-toting customers but no more than anywhere else, including Deptford's most famous old-school pub, the Dog & Bell.

It has a pretty spacious interior and the tables and chairs actually seem less shabby and a bit more stable than those in some of Antic's other establishments. They have DJs playing records (yes, proper records!) most nights; after a slightly shaky start they seem to have got the volume sorted out.

The back yard - it cannot in all honesty be referred to as a garden - is now more or less tidy and clean, and there's half a dozen picnic tables out there, one under a gazebo, for the smokers.

Once the kitchen is up and running I look forward to checking out the menu - I have tested the pork pies and piccalilli and found the current offer a little wanting. My discerning taste in pickles is the stuff of legend, let's be honest, so I am eagerly anticipating the time when I can feast on warm, home-baked sausage rolls* with something a bit more challenging on the side than Haywards preserves.

*Updated: almost as soon as I published this post I heard that my feedback to the management about the pork pies had been heeded, and that they are now shipping in sausage rolls from the Albert. Hopefully still warm. I'll be heading down there in a peckish state in the near future to check them out.