Peckham’s Bussey Building: now and then



BYLINE: Rachel Mulrenan

Ask any self-respecting South East Londoner for a recommendation for a good night out in Peckham and they will invariably reply with two words- Bussey Building. While Peckham is not exactly known for its nightlife, the late 19th century Bussey Building has in recent years soared into the public conscious, even being billed as one of London’s best venues by Time Out in March.

Those in the know in South East London can often be found at the weekends enjoying funk, soul, ska, electro, motown and more in the cavernous warehouse, run by The Chronic Love Foundation (CLF) Art Cafe. While technically only occupying the front section of the 120-year-old Bussey Building, the CLF Art Cafe has become synonymous with the name.

As well as hosting nights such as Secret Sundaze and the popular monthly (free) night South London Soul Train, the space holds events in film, anime, art and comedy.  It offers a rehearsal space for theatre groups including B-Scene, part of Camberwell’s Blue Elephant Theatre, and a place for community workshops and meetings. Bussey Building is also home to artists’ studios and two art galleries.

CLF is a commercial humanitarian company that was set up in 2003 by creative arts entrepreneur, and resident DJ ‘Jazzheadchronic’, Mickey Smith, alongside Marque Gilmore and David Malone.

Bussey Building is part of the colossal Copeland Industrial Park (CIP), which sprawls over seven acres (an area the size of four football pitches) from Rye Lane to Copeland Road. The building is a Victorian reinforced concrete industrial structure, and is thought to be the last of its kind in Peckham. It was originally home to Geo. G. Bussey & Co, a small arms manufacturer which moved to Peckham in the late nineteenth century. It was likely used for wartime production during the first and second world wars, and also as an air raid shelter during WWII.

The CIP was earmarked for demolition by the council and Transport for London in 2007 to make room for a tram depot, but a campaign spearheaded by community group Peckham Vision and CLF successfully saved the space. CLF took over the front building, which was at the time partially empty and being used as an embroidery factory and a church, and renovated it floor by floor. According to Mickey, they received no government grants and no sponsorship, but instead re-invested any profits from events back into the building.

Mickey came up with the idea of the CLF Art Cafe after seeing similar schemes in Hong Kong. He said: “I wanted to show how much it adds to the community.”

When it comes to paying to use the space for rehearsals, CLF have a Marx-esque philosophy of each paying according to his or her means: “We don’t have a set rate, we are flexible”, said Mickey. “If it’s positive for the community then we welcome it.”

Future plans for Bussey Building include opening a year-round 5000 square-foot rooftop, making the most of the building’s panoramic views of London, and developing the Copeland Park site (at the rear of Bussey Building), also known as the Copeland Cultural Quarter.

“Before we started [the project], Rye Lane was run by gangs, there was always trouble. We asked ourselves, how do we change the perception of Peckham?” said Mickey.

“All we have done are positive events. Now there are lots of people moving to the area, travelling to check it out. Around Rye Lane we now have security, life in the streets. It has uplifted the area.”

In 2011 Bussey Building was protected permanently, following a council decision to extend the Peckham Conservation Area.

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