Lewisham Night Surgery

26 July 2019

London’s Night Czar, Amy Lamé, writes about her trip to Lewisham on 21 June as part of her Night Surgery visits.

The Mayor's new London Plan calls on every borough to create a Night Time Strategy. We’re working with boroughs to help them develop their strategies. Lewisham has been making huge strides, so I was delighted to hold my latest Night Surgery in Deptford, Lewisham and Catford.  

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The Night Surgery started in Deptford, which is one of London’s fastest growing creative clusters. With the support of the council, a diverse range of community, arts and leisure activities are transforming the area at night.This is enhanced by the Night Overground service that operates from nearby New Cross Gate, connecting Lewisham to other thriving night time locations such as Canada Water, Dalston and Highbury. Lewisham councillors signed up to the Mayor’s Women’s Night Safety Charter, pledging their support to make London a city where all women feel confident and welcome at night. They join a growing list of over 250 organistaions that signed the charter. 



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The Albany, Deptford's much loved performing arts centre, hosts a 300-seat auditorium for theatre and live music, plus a café bar, rehearsal rooms, space for creative businesses. It even has a community garden. Many locals grow up visiting the Albany which is at the heart of a diverse and thriving community. Chief Executive Gavin Barlow filled us in on their ambitious plans to expand their offer for the local community. 

Deptford Market Yard, a joint development between U+I and Network Rail, has created new public square with a range of independent food, beverage and leisure businesses. There’s also a space that broadcasts community radio online and is entirely run by Lewisham residents. 

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Across the high street, it was great to see how the railway arches along Resolution Way are home to local operators, such as jazz revival bar Buster Mantis and Villages Brewery.  Speaking with Gordon McGowan of Buster Mantis, It was good to hear about the positive relationship he has with the council, however, he is worried about the threat to his business from rising rents. Unfortunately this is something we come across too often through our Culture at Risk Office.

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Down the high street I visited Deptford Does Art, a bustling bar, café and gallery, where I spoke with the owners, Dan and Suzanna, about their experience of running a night time business, and how Deptford is changing. The development and events around Market Yard have helped re-shape the area, but footfall is still a challenge. Many businesses would welcome support in publicising the work they are doing as well as promoting the area as a destination. Research shows that councils across the country see a strong night time offer as vital to reviving our flagging high streets. Visiting town centres across London, I'd love to see all areas getting the support and investment of places like Deptford. We need to shout about all the great things going on here in order to help this high street thrive at night.

Lewisham Town Centre is a place with huge potential. Around the DLR station, there is a massive amount of new housing being built and a rapidly growing community. It was good to hear about the council’s plans to connect the transport hub with the shopping area via new public spaces and retail areas. But I was struck by the lack of units open after 6pm. A cluster of gambling arcades, pawn shops and cash machines means that the area doesn't feel like an open, welcoming place to be at night. This seems like an area ripe for a new night time plan, with a diverse offer of shops, services and leisure activity that will serve the growing community where people work hard for every penny and need a healthy and well served high street open in the evening.

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Our next stop was the Model Market, a seasonal street food market that makes use of a former council owned market hall. Open on Friday and Saturday from April to October, it hosts a variety of local food vendors, like Rinku Dutt and her family-run market stall Raastawala. We were shown around by Adam Terry, the market manager. He told us how the crowd at Model Market can vary from night to night. During our visit, it was so good to see lots families with young children enjoying a Friday evening out. The market also gives back to the local community by offering free entry and refreshment discounts to public sector workers. 

In Catford I met with Preston Benson, founder of the Really Local Group, who is managing the redevelopment of the former Poundland shop in Catford Mews. The focus is a new multi-screen cinema, the borough’s first for over 20 years. There will also be a live music offer, bar and food provided fresh by local vendors. There is a heartening approach here; the whole community is engaged in the changes taking place to ensure that local people can benefit from the exciting changes. I look forward to returning to Catford Mews and seeing how this building comes to life! 

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At Lewisham Hospital A&E I met with the dedicated night staff who work so hard in our NHS. I learned about the cost of overnight parking and safety concerns for staff who are unable to park onsite. For London to transition into a fully-fledged 24-hour city, we must ensure that our 1.6 million night workers are protected and valued as much as those that work during the day.  

There is so much great work going on in Lewisham. I was able to meet everyone from venue operators to A&E staff, brewers to artists, residents to night time workers. The council is taking a grassroots-up approach to its changing cityscape. It is ensuring that local people are supported and local character is cherished and protected. When people are able to live, work and go out at night in their local neighbourhoods, the economy finds that ‘circular’ sweet spot where residents, workers and businesses all benefit.

I look forward to continuing positive partnership working with Lewisham and all London boroughs in making our city work for everyone at night. 

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