What was once at risk of commercial development is now a creative community asset.
Peckham Levels is a workspace complex in an old multi-storey carpark owned by LB Southwark in the heart of Peckham. The Creative Land Trust team were hosted by co-working space Hatch there as part of a team day in November.
The building was in danger of being sold to residential developers and a community-led initiative was able to save the building and ensure that it was left as an asset to be used to benefit the community. In 2017, Southwark Council granted Peckham Levels an initial 20-year lease to run a capital project that converted the old car park into a complex of 85 artist and maker studios, co-working space, a children’s play area, a food hall with bars and event spaces. Today, the Peckham Levels team programme a range of day and evening community outreach activities across all their public-facing spaces, all week long.
The 1960s concrete structure was sealed off from the elements with glazing, heating, electrics and plumbing to make it into a functioning workplace. Workspaces are divided by into units with chipboard partitions, varying in size, but based on the proportions of the original car parking bay spaces. Tenants that take these spaces range from jewellers, to upholsterers, furniture makers, hairdressers, ceramists, screen printers, interior architects, textile and fashion designers, carpenters, musicians and even a violin maker. The London College of Communications has recently taken on three studios to give their Design students the opportunity to practice within a vibrant workspace community. The charity Intoart that strives to support people with learning disabilities to be visible, equal and established artists, runs its studio practice and artistic programme from the complex also.
On taking a lease, member tenants sign up to Peckham Levels’ Community Investment Scheme, which requires each tenant to volunteer one hour a week of service to the community. These banked hours can be used in any number of ways, with a driving factor to offer local young people opportunities in the workplace. Tenants are offered leases between 1 and 5 years, and affordable rental levels give businesses the opportunity to develop and expand. There is an expectation that once businesses reach a certain level of success, they will move to new premises and allow younger organisations the same opportunity they were given originally. Peckham Levels strives to provide space to local people and businesses, and currently 72% of their units are occupied by organisations from Southwark.
Hatch recounts that they have known of members from their co-working hub at Peckham Levels starting off with a desk, then moving on take a whole workspace unit, expanding to larger spaces in the complex, and finally then move out of to a self-contained workspace elsewhere. Hatch itself started its journey in 2016, in support of adults and in particular young people by helping skill them up to get them access into the workplace. They took on Hatcham House a community hall venue in Peckham used previously as a working men’s club. They paid the club a peppercorn rent, but recently were able to buy the freehold and take ownership of the whole hall. They started offering co-working space in 2019, and are able to offer subsidised memberships to those in South London who normally can’t access workspace of this nature through partnerships with the local authority. They offer desk space only at the moment but are keen to look at providing messy workspace for creative and art making in the future.
Peckham Levels’ position within the local community becomes ever more engrained. They have close relationships with neighbouring Bussey Building, cinemaplex, the Prince of Peckham pub and Bold Tendencies that occupy the top floors and rooftop of the carpark. They are now at capacity with a long waiting list for space, but always looking to support new and innovative creative business in Southwark and further afield, and always in support of the local community.