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Peckham tries to shake off violent image with guide to pull in tourists

Cahal Milmo The Independent 24 September 2005

Del Boy would be choking on his pina colada. Surely the man who once sold tap water as Peckham Spring should have hit on the equally implausible notion of a Peckham tourist map.

Instead, it fell to the London Borough of Southwark to unveil a rebranding exercise worthy of SE15's most famous - and admittedly fictional - son in the shape of a brochure designed to put Peckham on the sightseeing trail next to Big Ben and Trafalgar Square.

The glossy tourist map aims to highlight the hidden delights of a corner of the capital which normally only hits the headlines for its less wholesome reputation as a hotspot for crime, crack dealing or shoddy public housing.

As Del Boy Trotter put it once in Only Fools and Horses: "I thought the only people who missed Peckham were the bloody Luftwaffe."

So untrue, so unfair, according the burghers of Peckham, who pointed out yesterday that almost all of the crumbling estates of north Peckham, where 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was murdered, have been replaced with state-of-the-art housing, and the suburb has a thrilling mixture of cultures, history and architecture. Visitors are invited to amble through the Gothic memorials of Nunhead cemetery, opened in 1840, marvel at the cutting-edge modernity of Peckham Library and feast on a bacon butty at the Bubble'n' Squeak cafe.

Roger Young, head of Peckham's renewal team, said: "We don't pretend that the place is perfect, but what we are saying is that there is a lot going on here that people should come and see.

"What most people hear about the area comes from shocking headlines, but we have some world-class stuff here."

The map, the first in a series entitled Discover the Real Peckham, focuses on the recently gentrified Bellenden Renewal Area, which is a haven for artists and canny City executives. Average house prices in Peckham, which takes its name from the river Peck, are some 20,000 below the 270,000 norm for London.

Detractors of the project claim it underlines the divide between north Peckham, which retains some of Britain's most deprived wards, and the bohemian areas bordering the more salubrious suburb of Dulwich.

One local businessman said: "I'm all for highlighting the good bits about Peckham, but it should be warts and all. If we really wanted to show the real Peckham, this map should also have a little symbol of a crack den and a shooting."

The ugly side to the area was highlighted last month when a health worker, Zainab Kalokoh, was shot in the head and killed while holding a baby at a Christening celebration in a community hall. Two brothers, aged 14 and 16, have been accused of murder.

Some 25,000 copies of the map will be distributed locally and at tourist board offices in central London. Requests for copies have also been received from as far afield as Cardiff and New York.

Those straying from the usual London tourist beat will find themselves directed towards examples of high-brow street art, including bollards cast from rusty steel by the one-time Peckham resident Antony Gormley, and twisted lamp-posts by the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. The work of the Royal Academician Tom Phillips, whose studio is in Peckham, is highlighted with his murano glass mosaics and barcode-patterned pavements.

The award-winning Peckham Library, designed by Will Alsop and Jan Stormer, already features on the itinerary of architecture aficionados, drawn by its space-age looks and reading rooms housed in suspended pods.

But the map also aims to highlight less obvious treasures, including the Royal Mail delivery office and a Quaker meeting house where Dame Elizabeth Cadbury, member of the chocolate dynasty, worshipped.

Other claims to cultural fame include the poet and artist William Blake having a vision of an angel in a tree when he visited the area. Perhaps appropriately, the map makes reference to one public garden having been the site of the Licensed Victuallers' Asylum.

As well as art galleries and restaurants, tourists will also be encouraged to head for Rye Lane market, boasting, among other culinary delights, " 15 different types of plantain".

Anton Ferdinand, the West Ham and England Under-21 footballer, who grew up in Peckham along with his older brother Rio, of Manchester United and England, said: "Nothing but negative vibes have come out of Peckham for such a long time. The place has changed since I was a kid and changed for the better. I'm proud to have come from here."

Five places to see


Won the Building of the Year in 2000. The lighting on its canopy changes colour according to barometric pressure.


A derelict site turned into an urban oasis, with gates designed by Tom Phillips.


A shop with an huge PVC book exploding through the window.


0ne of London's finest Victorian graveyards. Home to a flock of woodpeckers.

Five famous sons


The footballing brothers were brought up on a Peckham estate. Their mother refused to let them play on the streets.


The king of horror was born in 1887 in a house opposite Peckham Park.


The boxing promoter is Peckham born and bred.


The only recipient of a blue plaque in Peckham, the GP, born in Jamaica, founded the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931.