It’s 50 years since the first residents moved to Thamesmead: one of the first ‘new towns’ in London, and a visionary masterplan of the Greater London Council (GLC). To celebrate, Peabody, the Housing Association carrying out regeneration plans in the area, have planned a year of activities and events for residents and visitors, writes Laura Burgoine…
Head of Cultural Strategy Adriana Marques, and Executive director of Peabody’s Thamesmead regeneration programme John Lewis talk to the Weekender about wildlife, a new cultural headquarters, and Thamesmead on film. “Thamesmead is such an extraordinary place and has so much history, so we thought why not celebrate it with a whole year of events?” Adriana said.
Thamesmead got its name through a £20 cash prize competition in a local paper; Anthony Walton from Barnehurst beat 564 competitors to crown the area with its title. The Gooch family moved in on July 1st, 1968.
“It had been marshland area, and before that the Royal Arsenal, and the vision came into being in 1967 when they started to recruit the first residents. It was a very prestigious place to live and residents were carefully vetted,” Adriana said.
THE 50TH FUND
To celebrate 50 years of Thamesmead, a 50th fund was launched in January with money collected from local filming fees going straight back into the community.
“Thamesmead continues to be really popular for filming,” Adriana said.
Skepta and A$AP Rocky filmed their latest music video in Thamesmead, while BBC shot Informer, a new drama due to air in autumn. “They took on about 70 locals as extras, and paid them,” Adriana said. “There’s lots of fashion shoots there. Sam Smith did a video last autumn around the lake.”
“The 50th fund is very much about empowering local residents to put on their own events, develop projects and things they want to see happen, and it’s about supporting individuals not just groups,” Adriana said.
The 50th festival, on July 14, follows a long tradition of festivals in the area. “There were some quite phenomenal festivals in the ‘70s, including one called Human Power festival with people making their own machines and trying to go as fast as they could on land,” Adriana said. “At this event we’re having a dog show; dogs are a huge part of the Thamesmead community: Chihuahuas, huskies, and Staffordshire bull terriers are the three breeds I see most regularly.”
The festival will also have a talent stage, community carnival, tea parlour, and reminiscence tents.
Another highlight is Beautiful Thing, a performance developed with the Greenwich + Docklands festival, running on July 3-7.
“This is the unsung film heritage of Thamesmead,” Adriana said. “A Beautiful Thing was a West End play turned into a film. It was written in Thamesmead; the play is 25 years old this year, it was made into Channel 4 film in the late ‘90s, set here, filmed here, and it’s the most technicolour glorious love story,” she continued. “We’re holding an outdoor dance theatre performance of it in and around the architecture with a community cast.”
Fly by Night is part of international World War I celebrations, with organisers bringing in 1500 pigeons from the Netherlands to fly in formation over the river at dusk with LED lights attached to their legs where messages would have been.
Peabody partnered with 1418 who are creating all the art celebrations for the First World War, including the poppies at Tower of London. This project was first carried out in New York, two years ago.
“Thamesmead and Woolwich were part of the royal arsenal for 500 years and contributed massively to Britain’s war efforts in the First World War, and the unsung heroes of the were carrier pigeons,” Adriana said.
“This performance really drives home the connection between Thamesmead and the river and the open space on the eastern side of Thamesmead,” John said.
WATCH THIS GREEN SPACE
“Thamesmead is not just another place where people live,” John said. “There’s parks, five lakes, 7km of canals, 30,000 trees, the Thames path is completed all the way along the front of Thamesmead.”
The area has had four decades of development, from the iconic brutalist architecture built in the ‘60s to the more suburban homes built in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “If you go around Thamesmead you can really feel that difference,” John said. “The bit people know most is the concrete part, South Thamesmead , which will be benefitting hugely from the new Elizabeth line in December. It’s very important and special but it’s only one bit.”
GLC’s masterplan was a balance between urban architecture and green spaces with double the open space per head than anywhere else in London. The area has a seal that’s something of a local celebrity, while the wildlife, birds, and swans are a huge draw for local photographers. “The mud banks of the Thames attract certain breeds of birds. It’s quite a mature landscape,” John continued.
“We’re working hard to bring more life to the parks. They’re lovely, but some of them aren’t in the right place. We’re working on a landscape strategy at the moment for the whole town, so there’s easy connections and comfortable, safe paths.”
THE FUTURE: SOUTHMERE VILLAGE
The newly renovated Lakeside Centre is a cultural community hub opening in October, with a 30 year partnership with East London’s Bow Arts. “It’ll be lots of uses under one roof: a YMCA nursery for 60 local small people, Greenwich Cooperative Agency running an enterprise kitchen and café, and creative workspaces,” Adriana said.
The boating club, currently on Binsey Walk, is also moving to the Lakeside centre, where it will be run by the YMCA, offering canoeing, sailing and other watersports.
The Link youth centre has also expanded with three new studios and performance spaces for theatre.
As part of the new town square, a library is opening in the new Southmere Village. “Where the four towers are, just to the corner is a new site for 525 new homes,” John said. “There’ll be a new town square, a water feature, some cafes, bars, shops to service local residents. And it’ll expand to 1500 new homes. We’re building the centre first to make sure facilities are there for the outset.”
A new radio station is opening, as well as a pop-up cinema. “Thamesmead needs a cinema,” Adriana said. “We’re not going to build a cinema overnight, in the meantime we’re holding a monthly cinema with popular titles, run by local volunteers. We’ve trained up some local projectionists, and we’re trying to make it affordable.”
Visit www.thamesmeadnow.org.uk for more information.
THAMESMEAD 50 EVENTS
Fly By Night presented by LIFT, Greenwich + Docklands Festival 14-18 NOW. June 21-23.9:15pm. East Thamesmead. Tickets: £27.50.
Beautiful Thing presented by Greenwich + Docklands Festival. July 3-7 at 9:45pm. Central Thamesmead. Tickets: £10 (or free to sit on the grass).
First Waves: Exploring the impact of race relations legislation in the UK. Workshops held throughout July. To get involved emailed Lisa.Drew@peabody.org.uk
Thamesmead’s 50th Birthday Party. Saturday 14 July. Southmere Lake and Park.
London Open House. September 22-23.
The newly renovated Lakeside Centre, managed by arts charity Bow Arts, opens in October.
A new Thamesmead photo book by designer Peter ChadwickBook is being released in November. To submit your photographs for consideration firstname.lastname@example.org