BY JAMES TWOMEY
A cultural revival is taking place to boost an arts and music scene in one of London’s most “underrated areas”.
Catford, home to musicians Ray BLK and – no kidding – Cat Stevens as well as fashion designer Alexander McQueen is not short of cultural icons, but the South-east suburb has often been neglected socially and financially, despite being the civic heart of Lewisham.
Now there is a community of artists and locals determined to put Catford back on the cultural map to compete with its glory days when Catford’s cinemas and ballrooms were a buzzing hub of activity.
Lewisham council is planning a £2.1million revamp of the area to contend with the growing population in the borough, and locals are seeking an opportunity to reinvent the area with an artistic influence.A spokesman for Team Catford, a Lewisham council group created to reflect public opinion on developments in the area, said: “The regeneration of Catford town centre is all about working with people who live, work, shop or run a business in Catford and looking to the future.
“We feel that the investment in the future of Catford will benefit businesses and local people for decades to come. “We’ve received more than 1,800 responses through our website and across a variety of face-to-face events throughout Catford.
“Of the comments specifically relating to leisure, 26 per cent wanted to see a new cinema created and 25 per cent wanted to see improved programming at The Broadway Theatre. A further 12 per cent wanted to see leisure options improved generally.”
One of the biggest new additions to Catford is the Ninth Life pub in Rushey Green, an 11-room establishment which also promises to offer a space for the community to engage in artistic programmes and provide a venue for live acts. Dr Claire MacNeill, artistic director of Ninth Life, said: “Our programming so far has included a craft market of local makers and designers, free family workshops every Sunday, an exhibition of 30 local artists’ work, jazz and jamming sessions with local musicians, and Catford Curious – an interactive crowd-sourced exhibition about what Catford means to those who live here.
“We will also do a mid-monthly screening of Art House films with Catford Film.” Keith Arnold, chairman of Catford Film, said: “There’s always a buzz about film, whether it’s film screening or film-making.
I want to create a film hub here in Catford, so people associate our area with creative film initiatives.
“We have a few things lined up for the year. We have an outdoor screening of The Greatest Showman on May 18 at Culverley Green at 8pm.
There will be a bar and hot food with a DJ on the night, too.
“We have a free four-day film-making workshop in May, with a professional TV and film director, taking students all the way through the film-making process from ideas, storyboarding to camera skills, lighting, directing and being on a film set to shoot a short scene.
“We also have the free Film Festival from September 13-22.
“This is 10 days of free film screenings, workshops and discussions, live music and a 48-hour film challenge. The film challenge is a great way for the community to make a film and get the chance to have it screened on the last night of the festival.”
Catford Arts, an artist collective since 2016, has provided more than 100 artists with the opportunity to showcase their work in 50 locations around SE6 with their project The Arts Trail.
Wendy Arnold-Dean, chairwoman of Catford Arts, said: “Our main aim was to provide a platform for local artists but The Arts Trail has become much more.
Quite a social occasion too. “It’s great to hear about neighbours meeting for the first time and to see groups of families and friends walking the streets of Catford together with their trail booklets and maps.”
Catford Food Market and Catford Cornucopia are recent additions to the area, providing a hub of local activity, with opportunities to try foods from around the world and buy locally-made art.
The market was launched in March 2018 and is open from 10am until 4pm on the last Sunday of every month, providing culinary treats from all around the world.
Most of the traders are from Lewisham and many are from Catford.
Catford Cornucopia, in Catford Broadway, sells an exciting variety of artistic items from local artists with a percentage of the profits donated to charities 999 Club and the Sickle Cell Society.
The cultural and physical revival of Catford is placing importance on local residents’ opinions and the impact on their lives in a move that might help those concerned about gentrification.
Catford’s regeneration does genuinely seem to be taking residents’ concerns to heart, if not, at least to art.