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      23.10.2001 21:51
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      • "high crime rate"

      I moved to Peckham in April, and since all I ever hear about it is how dangerous, ugly and miserable an area it is, usually from people who've never even been within two miles of the place, I thought I'd share my more positive experiences of the area with you. When I first began looking for my first property, having been renting for nearly a year, I decided that I wasn't going to be restricted by location, despite well meaning, but, I'm afraid to say, rather snobbish colleagues of mine informing me that location is EVERYTHING. I couldn't afford a shed in the trendier parts of London, and even areas over an hour away from the centre of London tend to be priced out of my range. I've lived in areas that are considered 'dodgy' before, and I know that things are not always what they seem when it comes to judging an area's appeal. I decided that I'd find properties that are in my price range and go to see them, regardless of where they are and what reputation this location has. I'd make up my own mind. My flat is a new, purpose built property situated smack bang in the middle of Peckham and Camberwell, and I have a Peckham postcode - SE15. When I first went to view it, I must admit that I was intimidated by several dilapidated and boarded up tower blocks about five minutes away, but these became less important when I was told that they were soon to be knocked down as part of the 'Peckham partnership' program. The Peckham Partnership program is a five year plan designed to improve and rejuvenate the area, consisting of building schemes to encourage people to move to the area AND providing new, affordable housing for local people. The town centre has, I've been told, already improved immeasurably, and the new homes that have been built have been taken up not only by people like me, first time buyers looking for a reasonably priced property in an up and coming area, but also by local peopl e who would otherwise not be able to afford to buy a property, such as nurses and teachers. So...How have I found the area? In a word, fantastic! In the points below I've tried to sum up the pros and cons of living in the Peckham/Camberwell area, as of course any area has its bad points as well as its good ones. GOOD POINTS : South London in general : South London has been a revelation to me. Prior to my new place, I'd only ever lived in North London and East London. North London (Finchley) I found nice enough but unexciting, East London has character but the area itself isn't that attractive. South London is lively and fun! There's so much to see and do. A ten minute bus ride takes me to London Bridge, where I can pretend to be an Elizabethan peasant in the Globe theatre, freak myself out in the 'Clink' prison, drink myself silly in Vinopolis or just enjoy a nice meal while gazing out at the Thames. There's also some fantastic markets - the Borough market, where you can buy gorgeous gourmet food, unusual meats and vegetables, and seafood. Then there's the East Street Market in Peckham itself, a colourful street market where you can buy everything from the latest designer gear to bits and pieces for the home, and there's a tea and coffee market at Butlers wharf. South London is an 'arty' part of the capital. There's an art college in Peckham, and loads of art galleries. The Tate modern is of course one, although personally I didn?t really rate it - I get more out of looking at local artists work in the smaller galleries. South London at night is buzzing with clubs such as the Ministry of sound, and loads of really nice pubs and bars. You can choose from the oldest pub in London - the George at London Bridge - or newer bars such as the Funky Munky in Camberwell itself. Proximity to Central London : This really wowed me when I first moved to Peckham - it's zone two, only two miles from Piccadilly Circus, and I can be in the West End in 15 minutes by bus! Fabulous! Local Shops : This is one area where the big supermarkets haven't managed to drive away the smaller shopkeepers, and there are lots of lovely little grocery shops where you can buy virtually any food you want. The shopkeepers are all very friendly and obliging. There is a kind of 'village atmosphere' at times which is so much nicer than the supermarket shopping experience. I normally shop in Camberwell, and a typical shopping excursion for me now consists of nipping into the Italian deli for some olives and parma ham, strolling a few doors down into the chinese supermarket for some tasty sauces and stir fry veg, into the turkish patisserie for some croissants and turkish pastries, and a quick lunch at the spanish tapas bar on the corner. In Peckham, there are many little shops where you can buy ethnic veggies (lovely hot chillies!) and other yummy stuff you can't get in the big stores. Friendly people : Contrary to popular belief, I've generally found the people in Peckham and Camberwell to be friendly and welcoming. I've struck up conversations with complete strangers on my regular bus route, and we often get together with our neighbours for barbecues and drinks. There is a mixture of many different races, cultures, religions and nationalities in Peckham, and generally speaking, they all get along well. This summer, there was a multi cultural festival in my local park, with displays, stalls and events reflecting the many varied groups of people in the area. The atmosphere was fantastic and we all had a great day. Steeped in history : Peckham and Camberwell have a colourful and fascinating history. The poet John Ruskin was born in Camberwell - and spent his childhood living in what is now my local launderette! There used to be a thrivi ng theatrical community based around the music halls of the 1800's, and there are many fascinating stories connected with this. Then you've got the rest of Southwark's history to explore... Nice Restaurants : In Camberwell, there are lots of reasonably priced restaurants, and you can have almost anything you feel like - Thai, Indian, Italian, Vietnamese, African, Greek, Turkish, Mexican, Caribbean, Spanish or English! I eat out far too many times these days! Gorgeous parks : Burgess Park is a huge, beautiful park which runs down from Peckham through Camberwell and almost as far as Elephant and Castle. It has a large lake where people are allowed to fish, and a picnic area. Hidden within Burgess Park is another park - a walled community garden which has different sections representing plants and wildlife from different parts of the world, and designed to reflect the multi culturalism of the area. There aren't many places in London with as much green space as this! Well serviced by buses : A common complaint is that South London does not have enough tube stations. I have found this to be true, but there is at least a partial compensation - there are some excellent bus routes in to central London and networking throughout the whole of the South. A one week bus pass for all zones now costs only £9.50, so I have managed to reduce my travel expenses by over three quarters of what they used to be! I now prefer travelling by bus - you can at least see where you are and what's around you. Up and coming area : I can't deny that part of the reason why I was so keen to buy my property in Peckham was because I could see how the area was improving and that prices were almost guaranteed to rise considerably in the next few years. The grotty blocks of flats are coming down, attractive modern buildings are being built, and people are beginning to move into the are a as they realise that Peckham is the next big thing. I don't believe it will lose it's character and become another yuppie bolt hole, as these changes are not being done at the expense of the local community but in partnership with them and for the most part with their wholehearted support. This is the difference between Peckham and many other inner city areas which have been taken over by well earning city types, forcing out the local community into what are now considered less desirable pockets of the area. In Peckham, changes are taking place across the board, and everyone will benefit. BAD POINTS : Still some Dodgy areas : There are still areas to avoid, especially late at night, and Peckham does still have a higher level of crime than many other London areas. There is still a lot of poverty in the area and where there's poverty, there will be crime. I have also heard that there is a lot of gang violence in and around these parts of South London, although I can't say I've seen evidence of this. The high profile and tragic murder of Damilola Taylor of course springs to mind, but this took place before I moved into the area, I can only speak as I find, and I have not found Peckham to be the dangerous dive that the media has painted it to be. It isn't as laid back and safe as, say, Finchley is, but then the properties here don't fetch in excess of £450,000 either... Not enough Tube stations : South London definitely isn't as well served by the tube network as it should be. Someone told me that this is because it's difficult to built an underground network in the area because of the marshy ground. I don't know whether this is the case or not, but it's definitely not been treated as equally as other parts of London when it comes to building tube stations. The new Jubilee line has made a big difference, but it's still difficult to travel around South London by train and tu be. I get around this problem by using buses, but I know some people don't like buses, because of the unpredictability of traffic and unreliability of timetables. I don't find the lack of a reliable tube service that much of a problem, but I can see that people who work quite a long way away might. Community divisions : The National Front demonstrations in Bermondsey might have suggested to people that South London is a hotbed of racial hatred and unrest. I haven't found this to be the case, but I can't deny that there are divisions among some areas of the community and South London is as vulnerable to these as anywhere else. There have been a certain number of high profile violent crimes that are considered racist in motive, but again, I can only describe how I have found the area, and I have not seen had any problems or been aware of any specific unrest. I think that to a certain extent, people see what they want to see, and believe what they want to believe, and will continue to keep their preconceived ideas regardless of what I might have to say on the subject. But it really is a great place to live. I love living there, and plan to stay for a few years at least. Maybe I'll see you in the Funky Munky sometime...!

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