I’m sitting in Lerryn’s café at the top end of Rye Lane in Peckham. Bearded types are eating mashed avocado on toast. A BBC actor sneaks past to read his script in the garden. Lerryn’s is a little café with a big personality. With its chipboard counters and lamp shades made of paper plates, it’s a DIY labour of love — the flooring was laid by owner Lerryn Whitfield, 26, with the help of friends, after watching a tutorial on YouTube.
Whitfield embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of Peckham. After studying drawing at Camberwell College of Arts she worked in east London cafés, then raised the £5,000 for her own place. The menu is redolent of childhood treats. “I asked my friends what their mums or dads made for them when they got in from school,” she says.
Of course, SE15 is already hipster central. Peckham’s Bellenden Road “village” is full of fancy restaurants and vintage shops. Young people pour into Rye Lane at night to go clubbing at the Bussey Building. But for years Peckham Rye, the street along Peckham Rye Common, the area’s most famous Victorian landmark, remained a grungy parade of boarded-up shops.
Now a vibrant community of independent start-ups — by local residents — has moved into the top end of Peckham Rye, including Pedler, a restaurant at Number 58 which recently won a Time Out I Love London award. With its quirky salvaged fittings, including asymmetrically placed cabinets decorated with ironic stag antlers, it has a New York vibe. Actors Ben Whishaw and Josh Hartnett have been spotted there.
Pedler was set up by Peckham residents Taskin Muzaffer and Tim Moore, who also run distillery Little Bird Gin. In his day job, Taskin worked for the restaurant group Drake & Morgan and was looking for his own place. “We used to walk along this street on the way to the park, and think ‘This is really nice’ because it’s the only part that’s got wide frontages which let in lots of daylight, and you get glimpses of the green of the Rye,” says Taskin. “I never really understood why it didn’t take off. And now, finally, everything is joining together.”
Next door, food writer Rosie Lovell has opened Rosie’s — the follow-up to her Brixton deli-café — serving breakfasts, lunches and ready-to-go dishes. She fitted out the space herself. “My dad restored church pews for the seating,” she says.
At Number 54 is the Old Spike Roastery, who supply roasted beans and coffee to local cafes and firms including Linklaters and Time Inc (they also supplied Banksy’s Dismaland).
Co-owner Cemal Ezel had the idea for Old Spike when he visited a silent tea house in Vietnam run by deaf and mute women. The not-for-profit company works with homeless people -providing training, housing and a job. They plan to roll out coffee carts with the Big Issue and fans sign up to the online subscription service, to get coffee delivered (oldspikeroastery.com).
Arguably the new businesses are led by the influx of buyers into the area, while Bellenden Primary School is moving to a huge new site behind the Rye. “The common is on the border of Peckham, Nunhead and East Dulwich, so that has definitely helped to bring in more shops,” says Mark McKinley, who launched SE15’s popular free newspaper, The Peckham Peculiar. “Plus there are still a lot of derelict spaces on Rye Lane for young people to develop as shops.”
You can buy a one-bedroom former council flat in a block close to parkland for £260,000, with two-bedroom flats to be had for £300,000. Prices of Victorian conversion flats start from about £365,000 in north Peckham and Nunhead. And a three-bedroom Victorian terrace house in north Peckham is about £700,000.
“Many of the influx of buyers from east London are used to living on estates in concrete blocks and, in Peckham, some of the estates are a breeze to live in compared to that,” says local resident Chris Stewart, who works at Acorn estate agents. “They’re quite spaced apart, there is the proximity to the park, lots of green space and trees.”
Puzzle Organico sells quinoa and Conscious chocolate — handmade, organic and raw. Five years ago that might have been a risk but, as the manager, Renato, explains: “I knew lots of people were moving in from north London. Peckham is an area that is changing.”
The shop’s tagline is “Not costing the earth”. Seats are made from recycled palettes, there are record decks and free wi-fi. “We wanted a friendly, open space. Hopefully it allows you a reprieve from the rush of London.”