With a determined avoidance of eye contact on its streets and a tendency to hide behind newspapers and smartphones on the Tube, London’s reputation for warmth is not great. Once Londoners get home from work, however, the story can change.
There are pockets of the capital where communities thrive, with offers to help the elderly with their gardens, and volunteering at a local food bank or on a neighbourhood newspaper. Here is our pick of the areas that are known for community spirit.
BOWES PARK, N22 and N13
What’s going on? Myddleton Road is named after 17th-century engineer Sir Hugh Myddelton who brought fresh drinking water into London on the New River: a very community–minded man, and today’s residents follow his lead.
Myddleton Road was dying on its feet until 2013, when a group of locals in this north London neighbourhood set up a street market to breathe life into their high street.
Street festivals with live music followed, while other volunteers run a community garden on a strip of waste ground, with regular weekend gardening sessions. Residents have set up drawing clubs, walking groups, and a community choir.
Debbie Oliver of Hobarts estate agents says: “There is a really tight community atmosphere there.”
Any other special reason to live there? Bounds Green Junior School is rated “good” by Ofsted and St Thomas More Catholic School, for senior pupils, is “outstanding”. You’ll also get more home for your money than in adjacent Alexandra Palace or Crouch End.
Transport: Bounds Green Tube is on the Piccadilly line. Trains from Bowes Park reach Moorgate in 24 minutes.
And the downsides? Proximity to the North Circular Road turns local streets into rat-runs and pubs provide the only nightlife.
House prices: A two-bedroom house costs about £550,000, with three-bedroom homes for about £725,000. Debbie Oliver says larger houses are rare but often need renovation when they do come up.
What’s going on? Peckham is changing. You only have to wander down Rye Lane, the scent of artisanal coffee in the air, to know that. But the rebirth of this outpost of south-east London as hipster HQ appears to have happened organically rather than to a masterplan drawn up by town planners.
When a couple of local people launched a campaign to reopen the long-defunct Peckham Lido, more than 1,000 people raised £60,000 through a crowdfunding scheme. The Peckham Coal Line, a linear park running on disused coal sidings between Rye Lane and Queens Road Peckham, was also put forward by a group of local residents, and Friends of the Peckham Coal Line is now a registered charity consulting locals about how the overhead park should be designed.
People living near Bellenden Road are organising a summer street party next month, and Denman Road regularly closes to traffic so kids can play outside. There are community groups, including Peckham Vision, set up to make sure locals have a say in the regeneration of their area — the group is currently fighting plans to redevelop the beloved Peckhamplex cinema; Friends of Peckham Rye Park run a traditional summer fête with a dog show, and the Peckham Peculiar is a free local newspaper.
Any other special reason to live there? There’s a brilliant range of independent cafés, bars and restaurants, plus a something-for-everyone vibe, with posh Bellenden Road, still-gritty Rye Lane, the brilliant Bussey Building for arts and gigs, and lovely Peckham Rye Park.
Transport: trains from Peckham Rye take 20 minutes or less to Victoria, London Bridge, or Blackfriars. Services from Queens Road Peckham to London Bridge take from 11 minutes, and reach Blackfriars and Victoria in less than 25 minutes.
And the downsides? It’s expensive to buy in Peckham and as developers move in, they threaten to eradicate some of its unique character.
House prices: the cheapest way to buy into Peckham is with an ex-local authority flat — a two-bedroom home would cost £250,000 to £300,000. A one-bedroom purpose-built or period conversion flat would be £330,000 to £350,000. A three-bedroom period terrace house costs from about £650,000, but you will need to pay £1 million-plus for one of the large, lovely Victorian piles in the streets off Bellenden Road.
SOUTH TOTTENHAM, N17
What’s going on? When Ellie Rees and her young family moved from Islington to South Tottenham three years ago it was not without some trepidation. The area had been a frontline of the 2011 summer riots, and its reputation for crime and poverty was well known. But the move meant she and her husband Rex, 40, and their two girls Blythe, four, and Ottoline, 11 months, could swap a two-bedroom flat for a three-bedroom Victorian house with a garden.
Ellie, 41, and Rex run their own business, Brickworks estate agency, through which they meet a lot of local people and they love this family-friendly, community-driven area. Ellie uses the Tottenham Parents Facebook Group pretty much daily, for everything from finding child care to recommendations for good local plumbers.
She has also discovered The Hub, on Lordship Rec, a community centre run by local residents which has a children’s playground, a café, a BMX track and a yoga studio.
Meanwhile, creative start-ups are thriving at Gaunson House, part of The Mill Co Project, which offers studios and spaces for arts and designers. There is also a café, and a weekly pop-up restaurant where different street food traders take over the kitchen.
New restaurants are starting to open up, including Loven “pizzeria/bar/artspace”, while the area got its own craft brewer, Beavertown Brewery, in 2014. A farmers’ market — that other hallmark of an up-and-coming area — is held regularly on Tottenham Green.
After the riots, politicians began to realise that South Tottenham needed help, and a multi billion-pound regeneration is now being planned. “The local community is very politically engaged and involved in the plans,” says Ellie. “A number of local groups hold meets for and against various development and residential projects.”
Any other special reason to live there? The area will get a huge boost if plans for Crossrail 2 links come off at Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale, both within walking distance. Plans to turn 10 Victorian reservoirs just east of South Tottenham into a huge wetland park will give the area some badly needed open space. Local schools include Crowland Primary, rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, while St Ignatius RC Primary is “good”.
Transport: South Tottenham station, in Zone 3, is on the Overground and is walking distance from Seven Sisters Tube, on the Victoria line.
And the downsides? This is an area where real poverty and deprivation still exist, and regeneration isn’t going to happen overnight. Streets and parks are littered and unloved despite the efforts of residents’ clean-up groups.
House prices: a two-bedroom purpose-built flat will cost about £350,000 to £400,000, while an average three-bedroom Victorian terrace house sells for about £600,000 to £650,000.