Back in the early years of the eighties, before the library existed in its current form, before even the pulse was built, the area just off the high street was known as Canal Head. Some of the original stables and warehouses still stood, neglected and ramshackle, but buzzing with life. To the pulse side, local children stabled horses, riding them daily up and down the surrey canal path. A joyous sight in those dark and impoverished days of massive unemployment, riots and poor housing, when most of Peckham seemed to exist in a kind of semi darkness. Large groups of tiny hangers-on would gather around the older kids who had ponies and offer to help with grooming and mucking out in exchange for being led round the cobbles a couple of times. It was a favourite gathering place, even back then. On the other side of what is now Peckham square (though it will always be canal head to me) were huge abandoned warehouses, with a cobbled courtyard and stables and a shop front. Squatted by an informal group of creative types, disgruntled misfits and a dog named attilla who belonged to no one and was regularly to be seen riding the local buses, it became known far and wide as a flophouse, venue, rehearsal space, artists studio, refuge, nightclub and café. Known simply as The Garage, even though it wasn’t one, folk came from Europe and the nether regions of the UK to stop by for a while. We gave it a lick of paint and tarted it up a bit, hauling in furniture and bits of architectural salvage to make it habitable and pleasing to us. In winter, we lit fires in the courtyard to keep ourselves warm.
People move on, places change. There’s no accounting for taste, particularly in regard to the library, but we mustn’t grumble. The Light has come to Peckham. Things are different.
At the other end of the surrey canal walk, is an overlooked, derelict wharf, now wild and overgrown. A fly tipped extravaganza of wild life and botanical treats. Not many of us venture here. It is on the way to nowhere, and has lain pretty much unnoticed by even regular users of the park. Thanks to the friends of Burgess Park and Burgess Park food group, there are now plans afoot to make it The Somewhere you might be on your way to, were you to involve yourself in creating a community garden. Hopes are high that surrey canal walk will become a foragers paradise, planted with scrummy treats for the savvy passer-by on his way to the farmers market or the new community garden at the old wharf, depending on which way he‘s going. The wharf is going to need a lot of work simply to get it into a shape where it can be planted. Ideas are being mulled over and suggestions considered for all kinds of pleasing projects including a forest garden, beekeeping, foraging walks and seasonal community events.
We hope that the garden will bring bushels and pecks full of good things to the surrounding area. To see how it develops, watch this space.