Anyone looking to define a sustainable community probably wouldn’t start in Peckham. Certainly not after reading this week’s news, which in a few hours has managed to undo much of the hard work of the last few years.
Don’t be too hard on the media. Just as Peckham became synonymous with Damilola Taylor bleeding to death in a stairwell, so too we won’t forget the image of a woman shot dead while cradling a child at a christening celebration in a community centre. It’s right that such things should shock us, and that we should remember.
It’s right, too, that the fleeting attention of the world’s press should be used to highlight the real issues that erode the lives of ordinary people: the fear of crime, the culture of casual violence, the dashed hopes. It takes more than a programme of demolition and rebuilding, even one as extensive as Peckham has seen over the last two decades, to restore confidence in a place and in your neighbours.
But the fear isn’t the whole story. If you can’t visit Peckham, visit some of the local message boards on the internet and see the diversity not only of the residents but of their feelings about the place. Opinions like this one don’t make it to the media’s analysis sections: ‘One of the most friendly parts is the triangle between Rye Lane, Queens Road and Nunhead. There’s a truly great traditional fishmonger’s on Nunhead Green, a cute little library and the best piece of woodland in inner London on the site of the old Victorian Nunhead Cemetery.’
True, users frequently comment on the area’s reputation as a hotbed of crime, but they’re also interested in parent and toddler groups, salsa classes, bus services and the best pubs - elements of everyday life that are the building blocks of community.
Peckham is under stress. Its regeneration is threatened by violence, stigma, and a lack of care. At the same time its sustainability is being reinforced by those who do care, and who invest their energy and emotions in building bridges with neighbours, supporting local businesses, and believing the place can be better.
It’s this state of constant tension that underlies the reality of sustainable communities: you can never dust yourself down and beam with satisfaction at a job done. A sustainable community is forever regenerating itself, adapting, surviving and overcoming new difficulties. In that sense, perhaps Peckham has more to teach us than we might imagine.
Julian Dobson, editor
- New Start Online Online magazine
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