From drugs den to creative space: A Peckham car park has been turned into a trendy hipster hangout
- Peckham Levels is home to restaurants, bars, artist studios, and a space where people can listen to talks and watch performances.
- It's built in the car park building around Frank's Cafe and the Peckhamplex cinema.
- The developers of Peckham Levels also set up container park Pop Brixton, which is proving to be very popular.
Above the reasonably priced Peckhamplex cinema (£5 a ticket!) in Peckham, London, is an old Sainsbury's car park that's been given a new lease of life.
Now the site - dubbed Peckham Levels - is populated with colourful businesses, bars, and restaurants that sit alongside "No Entry" signs and car park spaces.
Luds van den Belt, Peckham Levels site director, told Business Insider ahead of the December 9 launch that there was "lots of heroin and lots of homelessness" before the developers took over.
"You've got to remember that a year ago, this place was inaccessible," said van den Belt in November during a tour of Peckham Levels. "When we took over this space (and I'm not saying it was a good thing), we had to clear out a lot of homelessness. We had to do hygienic cleans of the whole space because it was full of needles, full of drugs."
Van den Belt added: "[It was] a massive prostitution area. All these floors were empty and they weren't being used as a car park space but you know it'd be perfect for people to do whatever they wanted to do.
"In all fairness what an amazing place to squat. I know that we came in and relocated a lot of the problems. We haven't solved them by any stretch of the imagination."
The future of the car park has been a matter of debate for years. Southwark Council proposed knocking it down at one point but campaigners got in the way.
In 2015, Southwark Council invited companies to propose how they would use the space if they were given it.
Former No 10 special advisor Rohan Silva, who runs office space company Second Home, was one of those to apply. He pledged to create 800 ultra-affordable artist studios in the car park but Southwark Council rejected his "Bold Home" project - a collaboration between Bold Tendencies and Second Home - in November 2015, choosing instead to go for what artist's website ArtNet described as a "retail" project.
"With so many artist studios in Southwark and across the city having disappeared over the past decade - and the remaining 30% forecast to disappear in the next five years - this is a terrible result for London," said Silva and his colleagues in a statement at the time.
Pop Brixton's developers took over the Peckham multi-storey car park in 2016
Pop Community, the developer behind Pop Brixton, took over the site in 2016 and started turning seven levels into a space for the public to enjoy and for businesses and artists to base themselves out of. The development, which has been authorised on a six year lease, is a partnership between Carl Turner Architects and property developer The Collective - a multimillion pound firm based in Mayfair.Peckham Levels has been designed to include 50 studios for artists, makers, and small businesses; as well as space for food businesses, retailers, markets, yoga, events, and more. The studios cost £200-£250 a month for those that want to occupy them. There's also a coworking area with 76 desks and five larger offices for companies with larger headcounts. Overall it's expected that there will be around 400 people working out of Peckham Levels on any given day, but the facility can accommodate up to 2,000 in total.
A number of food companies have already moved in including vegan and vegetarian restaurant Wildflower, French pop up Canard, and chicken wing seller Drums & Flats. There are also multiple bars selling fancy cocktails and craft beers on tap.
'It's an eclectic mix of people there; families, hipsters, and artists'
Peckham is a vibrant neighbourhood in South East London but there is a high unemployment rate in the area and a relatively high number of homeless people. While things are changing, crime rates have also been notoriously high over the years.
Businesses that sign a lease at Peckham Levels must agree to contribute at least an hour a week into a community investment scheme time bank, where they can work with children in the area, the elderly, or vulnerable groups.
"For us the real push is to make this project super relevant to the community and deliver value to the community," said Van den Belt.
Two Christian workers handing out leaflets in the area told Business Insider they wanted to see more space in Peckham set up specifically for young people, while street traders operating immediately beneath Peckham Levels said they wished the council would use the car park as a car park.Inside Peckham Levels on January 12, a woman with two toddlers said it was a great use of the space, adding that she intended to come back without her children.
Elsewhere, an architect was capitalising on the fact that it wasn't fully open yet and therefore relatively quiet, making use of the free Wi-Fi and the abundance of desk space in the main food area.
Laura Brooks, a public relations professional from Peckham who attended the launch party, thinks that Peckham Levels adds something different to Peckham. "It's an eclectic mix of people there; families, hipsters, artists etc."
But another resident said it's easy to see why Peckham Levels might not be welcomed by everyone in Peckham.
"I can see how it would be unpopular because it's very central," they said. "One of the bars that opened this year on Rye Lane had 'fuck off yuppies' spraypainted on it before it opened."
Van den Belt, who has been helping out at homeless charity St Mungo's in the area, realises that Peckham Levels is likely to raise concerns about gentrification and displacement in one of London's poorest neighbourhoods.
"You talk to everyone in the area - despite their being concerns around noise, and gentrification and all those sorts of issues that are entirely valid and real - I think the general feeling is 'thank god, someone's using the space for something decent,'" he added.
But a local resident said that Peckham Levels is actually pushing back against gentrification based on the fact that Southwark Council was considering knocking it down and building a new tower-block with 83 flats in its place.
"I think given there was a push to develop the site for flats, this project pushes back against the tide of gentrification we've seen in Peckham. The test for Peckham Levels in the long-term is if it serves all the communities in Peckham - not just the people who have recently moved to the area."Many other people in Peckham that Business Insider spoke to weren't aware that Peckham Levels existed.