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Open House Weekend

Thank you so much to the 650 Open House visitors who came to share in the enthusiasm for the Peckham Coal Line urban park this weekend. And a huge thank you to the volunteers who helped us walk, talk, wonder and dream – the Coal Line has to be the most visited un-built project in the history of Open House and we couldn’t have done it without your enthusiasm and support. So thank you all for being a part of our growing movement for a new urban park to connect south London and Peckham – a space as useful as it is beautiful!

As you know to keep this wonderful experiment going we have to raise £66000 by the 31st October. Earlier this week the Mayor of London helped by donating £10000 but we still have a way to go – If everyone who came this weekend gave just £25 that would be £16500. So please, dig deep and be a part of a wider new approach to Architecture where we’re inspiring everyone to transform where they live.

A grassroots project means we have to individually take responsibility to make it happen and collectively use this momentum. So visit today to become a part of our shared journey.

Thanks again
The PCL Team

Under the photos below is a copy of the talk we gave on Saturday and Sunday if you are interested.

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Full Text of talk given at Open House

Thank you for coming and sharing our ambition for the Peckham Coal Line. And welcome to a revolutionary approach to architecture where the public is the protagonist!

Before I talk about the physical project its important to set the context.

What started out as an online provocation nine months ago seemed to capture the collective imagination.

Neighbours we’d never met emailed asking how they could help and after a few weeks we invited everyone who had contacted us to a workshop in the room next door.

Very early on it became obvious that by harnessing the wealth of amazing local skills and energy on offer we were at the start of something special.

Our hyper local paper – the Peckham Peculiar wrote about us which drew attention from the Southwark News and so our network grew.

Last Saturday the front three pages of the gardening supplement of the Telegraph were dedicated to the Coal Line and this week the Mayor of London was added to our list of supporters who include: 1000’s local residents, local businesses, local councillors and our MP.

At centre of project is the power of together but it is not latent activism, rather its something that’s been built over many years in Peckham through the work of local grassroots organisations such as Peckham Vision.

Peckham Vision shared our idea early on through their network, they worked with us and advised us on how best to activate community; they shared their studio space, allowing us to experiment and explore through local workshops and events.

Over the years this activism has forced a culture of engagement and participation. From the Peckham lido project to the plans for the centre of Rye Lane including the Multi-story, the Scaffold Yard, Station Square and Peckham Square local residents are involved in the design process in some way.

Peckham is going through a huge amount of change at the moment and with regeneration also comes upheaval – Peckham Vision work to ensure that these changes are in the best interest of the areas residents whether that be forming a traders association or campaigning against demolishing treasured buildings such as this one.

Without an active, vocal and well-connected community, an ambitious project such as the Peckham Coal Line may not have gotten off the ground; so continuing and building on this work is central the concept.

By creating an initiative such as the Coal Line we are providing the catalyst to engage. We’re providing a reason to meet and discuss thereby connecting community.

Negotiation and collective imagination seems far more powerful than simply having a voice heard because allows us to be involved and actually be a vital part of making it happen. It gives us a sense of agency that we all seem to so desperately miss today, where decisions are, more often than not, made for us and where consultation is merely placatory tool used to realise a pre-determined plan.

So with the context in mind the three guiding principles of the Coal Line are:

  1. To catalyse businesses and residents to engage with each other, create community networks beyond the Coal Line itself and help continue to build a resilient neighbourhood that can harness the skill of its residents.
  2. A local connection - linking two high streets and a neighbourhood helping distribute the regeneration happening in Rye Lane further into the community by bridging a busy roads and creating a local asset that you can use to get around or sit in and enjoy. As well as creating a cultural space that would attractor visitors from beyond SE15 giving a boost to local traders.
  3. To plug a gap in an existing network of road-free greenways allowing continuous car free cycling and walking from across inner South London to Greenland Dock where Sustrans are proposing a bridge to Canary Wharf. This would provide tens of thousands of commuters from these residential areas to one of the cities principle work hubs, a quick, safe, pleasant, healthy and environmentally friendly way of getting to work, reducing pressure on the roads and public transport.

With this in mind I’m now going to talk to you a little more about

The potential left by history, the concept, our journey so far and the where we are headed..

The railways brought the industrial revolution to Peckham turning what was a backwater into a frenzy of manufacturing; the legacy of warehouses and factories surrounds us and while large-scale industry has long moved on, the high street continues to teem with markets stalls heavily influenced by Peckham’s diverse international community.

The railways supplied coal to this industry and the now redundant sidings still exist on the viaduct. This green finger, above the town centre, is now disused and overgrown. It is a quiet, natural oasis that negotiates its way through Peckham’s contemporary chaos and industrial heritage. The viaduct has views towards the city and has, until now, been an overlooked link corridor between the neighbourhoods green spaces.

Now we’re a group of residents who in a traditional sense have no right to imagine the possibilities offered by these spaces – we don’t own them and we leave that up to the ‘experts’. However we didn’t we dared to dream past the rubbish strewn sidings, knotweed and nettles. Our imagination was a form of emotional engagement with the space – in our minds we took a small bit of ownership of these otherwise non-places and we published our ideas.

This drew wider attention and so the network grew. Our voice got louder and louder and today, by being here, you are part of our journey towards an evolved approach to development, we’re challenging the traditional stewards of space and saying we’ll look after it if your not interested.

We are part of a movement that has seen urban farms set up in factories in Detroit, farmers markets on flyovers in Liverpool and beehives in abandoned cemeteries here in London.

So by supporting us you are not just supporting the Coal Line but you are supporting a platform for learning about how we can catalyse new ways of doing things.

SO why the Peckham Coal Line and why these rubbish strewn sidings rather than all the others?

Well this is where we live and we know that creating a linear park in this left over space would allow us to re-discover local history in the atmospheric shadow of grand old Victorian arches and factories such as the Bussey building, that we’re stood in. We also know that the old sidings have long views towards the city skyscrapers and being up there helps us to contextualise Peckham geographically and historically with in the city; it is a space that amplifies the seasons whilst linking our communities. – We know these things not because we are experts but because we live here.

Lots of other residents also thought it was a great idea and as the momentum grew so the council took notice. Our MP Harriet Harman got in touch and she helped us arrange a meeting with Network Rail. We made a solid case as to how it would benefit them. The Coal Line would create new connections and provide better access to parcels of space they manage beyond the town centre.

We showed them precedents of Parkland walk, The Promenade Plantee, The Highline and the DNA trail in Cambridge. They saw the Coal Lines potential and began to work with us advising us on the next steps.

We then began to work on concepts and designs for the space. The route fell into three clear sections. The elevated urban, hemmed in by tall buildings with atmospheric brick arches; the open, with far reaching views towards the city; and the established natural areas with mature trees and wildlife. In places the path narrows to three meters as it passes over Consort Road on a new bridge but in other places it’s as wide as 14 meters with areas where we could hold a programme of cultural events. The Coal Line reaches, otherwise inaccessible arches, renting these to small businesses could help pay for the parks on-going maintenance and upkeep; while the park would unlock parcels of space all along the route.

As the project has evolved and grown we have held workshop, events and walks. We have met key stakeholders and have welcomed 1000’s of visitors to Peckham. Visitors who spend money with local businesses and tell their friends what they found.

This weekend we are again opening our doors as part of Open House. We’ve printing a beautiful fold out map of Peckham showing the Coal Line but also other interesting sights as well as marking all the businesses that have supported us financially or by putting posters in their windows.

We are working with the Friends of Kirkwood Nature Reserve and Tenants and residents associations along the route to ensure that everyone is part of this process. Together we are creating a mutually supportive network around Peckham united by the desire to create something amazing.

We are now crowdfunding for £66000 to take the project to the next stage which includes testing some of the ideas along the route but also funding a feasibility study and an asset protection agreement with Network Rail which will allow us to draw on their expertise so that we can collaborate to work out the exact costs and programme of the build so we need your help.

London is a creative and progressive city and we are pioneering a new approach to space. Civic space crowdfunding platform Spacehive is allowing local residents the agency to transform where they live by submitting their own projects. At the start of the week the Mayor of London pledged £10000 towards our project through Spacehive and Boris said “The Peckham Coal Line project is a fantastic example of how we can harness the enthusiasm of civic crowdfunding and work more directly with Londoners to improve their neighbourhoods. I urge you to go online and help your local project reach their total.”

The traditional decision makers are recognising that communities are often best placed to not only identify the challenges that they face, but to also work together to find the ideas and solutions that meet their needs.

Community spirit is unquantifiable and intangible but we all recognise that it is a vital asset and driver of a successful city. The skills of connected residents are an underused resource, furthermore when residents are part of something from they outset the protracted consultation becomes embedded and part of the organic process of the project. We are reaching a time where Architecture can no longer be prescribed. Successful urban initiatives have to be adopted, embraced and loved by the people who use them. This sense of shared ownership can best be fostered when communities either instigate or are included in the process from the outset.

So this is our time to make our own opportunity not just take what is given to us.

This progressive approach means a shared responsibility in making things happen and the Coal line needs commitment from the public, from charities, foundations and corporations. We need government to step up and we need businesses to invest in making this a truly shared endeavour. So if you are an individual, or you represent a business or government agency and you’d like to help pioneer a future approach to urban space through an exciting project that, despite its modest budget has transformative potential, then join our journey. Donate through Spacehive and let us know how you can help.