Renovation can mean many things. Plenty of interesting empty buildings across Britain have found new life and purpose in recent years: churches, hospitals, cinemas, banks and factories. Perhaps the most striking conversion project of all has been the transformation of an empty municipal car park in south London into a vibrant centre for the arts.
Here, on floors seven to 10 of the former multi-storey parking garage in Peckham, the social enterprise Bold Tendencies has created a home for creative pursuits of all kinds. The huge concrete expanses now hum with activity: a sculpture park and other display spaces for up-and-coming visual artists; workshops where kids create art; a project for budding film-makers; an orchestra working with young musicians and children’s choirs.
A big open space like this gives the children a feeling of freedom. It’s very different from the classroom
Today, up on floor seven, children from local primary schools have been experimenting with pink-coloured materials around the staircase. “It’s amazing to see how the children become completely immersed in things so quickly,” says Sasha Morgan, leader of not-for-profit organisation Bold Tendencies’ educational programme.
“There’s something about a big open space like this that’s so flexible, that gives them a feeling of freedom. It’s very different from the classroom.”
Hannah Barry, founder of Bold Tendencies, started the project back in 2007. When she was just 23 years old, Barry forged a deal with Southwark Council to make use of the car park. Living in Peckham and constantly passing the huge, empty site, Barry and fellow artist Sven Mündner envisaged a future for the place that municipal transport planners could scarcely have imagined.
“We thought we’d like to see a new space for sculpture – a place to create more opportunities for young artists,” Barry recalls. “It grew from there and quickly became something much, much bigger.