02 June 2012

Newsletter: Ambitious Plans for Our High Streets

Film cameras came to Forest Hill at the end of March, when Sydenham cameraman Sean Cameron and Forest Hill architect Ed Holloway took up our call for someone to make a video to support our bid for £97k Portas Pilot funding.

The fund offers 12 areas across the UK a share of £1.2 million to regenerate their High Streets. The video was a precondition of entering. At the 11th hour, Sean and Ed took up the challenge and spent a mad three days zipping through Forest Hill, Kirkdale and Sydenham interviewing some key folks with big plans for the area.

As Ed says on the film, “We could show you all the negatives, but you know that already – they are common everywhere. What we’d like to show is the unique stuff…the people, the places that make these spaces activated. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm around here and we want to show you just how good it is.”

The pair took a special interest in local businesses that ‘blend’ such as Canvas & Cream, Stag & Bow and Alhambra. All of these mix community and cultural activities into their core retail trade. Our bid aimed to unite all three High Streets. trendy Forest Hill, quirky Kirkdale (still in Forest Hill Ward and the original Sydenham High Street) and leafy Sydenham, home of the annual arts and music festivals. It was great to meet Sean and Ed, and amazing to find out how many people we knew in common or could put each other in touch with. In the weeks after filming many fantastic working relationships were consolidated and formed.

Sean’s allotment buddy, Ky Lewis, put on an exhibition of pinhole photography at Alhambra. Kirkdale local Aaron came along to the private view and interviewed her as part of a film he is making about Kirkdale for his portfolio. Vicar Ed Olsworth at Holy Trinity on Sydenham Park lent us his beautiful church hall for a photo-shoot.

Kirkdale Village Traders and Community Group needed a room for a public meeting. The Grove Centre on Jews Walk loaned us its small hall. (Lucky, as more than 50 people turned up!)

Alhambra has always had culture and community at its core with a programme of exhibitions, classes and events. Over the past few weeks I have been overwhelmed by the goodwill coming our way as Kirkdale Village, which I chair, makes its final push to get our Street Beautification project complete in time for the Sydenham Festival Arts Trail in July.

Kirkdale Village was awarded £1000 by the Forest Hill Assembly last year, which the Kirkdale Traders have match-funded. With aspirations bigger than our pockets, we planned planters, signage, street art, trees… At the May Local Assembly meeting we reported on progress. By the end of the night we were talking to Kerry Hagger from the Arts Befriending Service about an inter-generational mosaic project, and to pop-up cinema queen Erica about another arts project. Someone else put us in touch with St Barts School.

Sydenham artist Joyce Treasure offered to do some fabulous street art (plywood paid for and supplied by Wooster & Stock). Joyce kindly allowed us to reproduce one of her artworks. Forest Hill printmaker Sam Topping quite out of the blue, offered to run our Schools’ Flag-making Project and to print the flags, and a staff member from Kelvingrove School came into the shop and expressed a firm desire to get involved, too!

Following up on Stag & Bow’s Local Traders’ Loyalty Card last Christmas, Janis Hendrikson at JH Skincare on Kirkdale has volunteered to develop a local currency or loyalty card scheme.

A local lady, Diana Hawk, has enlisted Urban Design students from UCL to help us position our new bike stands and planters. We’re on the hunt for a forklift truck - hopefully a local company will lend us one.

Sadly our Portas Pilot bid was unsuccessful. There is a second round of applications, so we will put in again. (More on this in our next edition.) Who knows if we will succeed? But, in a way, I feel as if we have already won. Working together on the application has brought us so much closer with some excellent new alliances.

If you’d like to meet local businesses and get involved, there’s a new networking group run by our very own marketing rock star Louise Brooks of Bake (www.bakelondon.co.uk). She’s also chairing a new Empty Shops Group. Check out the Kirkdale Village Facebook page www.facebook.com/kirkdalevillage, and you can pop into Alhambra to talk to me, www.alhambrahome.co.uk. When Sean offered to start a Kirkdale Village television channel back in March, I wondered what on earth he was going to put on it. Now it seems there is no shortage of filmworthy material!

Becca Leathlean runs Alhambra Home & Garden at 148 Kirkdale (free event Fri 29 June), and chairs the Kirkdale Village Traders and Community Group.

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