Each month we send a Patchwork LOVES newsletter, based around a theme that makes us happy to be human. This month, it’s all about ‘home’. So, Patchwork Founder Olivia decided to write an ode to Brockley – her home and the home of our Patchwork studio. Here are twelve reasons Liv loves Brockley.
Growing up, Brockley couldn’t compete with the bars in Blackheath and Greenwich, the pubs in New Cross, the underground clubs in Deptford or the snooker halls in Lewisham. Instead Brockley was the home of the house party. First stop was Dukes for all the necessary supplies then generally up to Wickham Road to party ‘til the police turned up. My experience of the Brockley house party scene has changed a bit over the years. Now I’m more likely to be found enjoying another great Brockley tradition, the ‘Open House’ and ‘Open Studio’ days. Still operating the same open door policy, the chance to drink wine, chat in a stranger’s kitchen and bump into people you know in the garden. Definitely less dancing but still the same feel good vibes.
The spontaneous Brockley house party has evolved in another way too – into the streets and up onto Hilly Fields. The Summer Fair has been a highlight in the Brockley social calendar for as long as I can remember. Organised by the brilliant Brockley Society, it’s a proper community event with a fairground, dog show, maypole, city-farm, bric-a-brac stalls and plenty of local food and booze for sale. But now the Brockley Max music festival also takes over Hilly Fields once a year with live music and poetry performances also happening in cafes, bars, pubs and spilling out onto the streets for a whole week. Organised by Moira, Jane and a team of volunteers, it’s a great example of what makes Brockley so special. People who know that to take part in a community doesn’t mean to consume stuff (the posh coffee, farmers market food or free arts magazine) but to actually contribute. To make and do the stuff that really connects people.
And that’s the next thing I love about our Brockley home – all the people who work so hard to connect us all up and all the community action groups that constantly strive to make things better. Nick Baron’s dedication to running the Brockley Central blog for last ten years is pretty impressive and keeps us all up to date on the neighbourhood news and the more recent I Love SE4 FB group is also great for sharing local ideas, initiatives and advice. Offline, The Brockley Cross Action Group is a brilliant real-world network organising community gardening, local tree planting and street clean ups. While the Brockley Society does a great job protecting heritage buildings, public spaces, educating about Brockley’s rich history and organising community events that everyone can enjoy.
On the day we got the keys to our first Brockley flat back in 2000 (when it was possible to buy your first flat in Brockley) six billboard posters went up around the neighbourhood replacing the ads for Silk Cut, Paddy Power and Stella. A local crew of creatives, including Simone Lia and Tom Gould, had taken over the advertising space, not to try to sell us anything, but to simply celebrate ‘Happiness in Brockley’. Bringing instant joy to everyone, I remember thinking on that day that Brockley would be my home forever and nearly 20 years on I still feel exactly the same – in part because it continues to a place that attracts so many creative people. You quite literally see it on the streets with initiatives like the brilliant Brockley Street Art Festival but there’s also so much creativity going on in people’s homes with in the increasing community of creative freelancers who live in the area, meet in cafes and rent desk space with us here in our Patchwork studio.
The Brockley Mews are amazing. If you ever get the chance to go on one of the Brockley Society’s ‘History Walks’ then do. But even just wandering down the many Victorian public walkways through Brockley you’ll come across all sorts of brilliant local businesses from a traditional knife grinders to an Oscar-Winning film production company and all sorts of interesting people… and ponies.
Saved from development at the end of the 19th century by philanthropist and founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, Hilly Fields is a pure joy. With the playground, tennis courts and bowling green it’s always busy with people also playing cricket in the summer and football the rest of the year. Justin’s weekend kids football training on Saturday morning, Fernando’s bootcamp and the weekend ParkRun not only give local people opportunity for regular exercise but also a chance to meet and make new friends. And then there’s Jaz May’s ice-cream van for a stop, chat and a treat.
Whether it’s a workday or weekend, we’re spoilt for choice in Brockley for a nice cheap hot midday meal that my nan still confusingly calls dinner time. A fry-up at the Central Cafe, a fish-finger sandwich from The Doorstep Bakery, a jacket potato in The Barge or a veggie curry at Nu Spice are all Patchwork favourites on a cold winter day and all for under £5.50. Brockley institutions that have thankfully survived gentrification and are still going strong.
Birthdays in Brockley used to be celebrated at Meze Mangal. In our family they still are. Who can resist a delicious Turkish meal, a hug from Sahin and a birthday sing-a-long from the entire restaurant? But we’re now spoilt for choice with other fantastic family run food places too – from Masala Wala and Bite Mi on Brockley Cross to Parlez and the Gantry by the station. But for community vibes, the friendliest staff, the cosiest seating, most delicious menu and best Bloody Mary in all of London, for me it’s all about The Orchard. Like me, Ed and Em grew up in South East London and it’s thanks to the imagination and determination of local entrepreneurs like them that Brockley now has such a visibly thriving social scene. We’ve always been a sociable bunch but in recent years a handful of brave locals have set up businesses that have given us more places to hang out.
I’m a tea drinker. But it would be weird to write a piece about Brockley without recognising the combined joy that is the hippy Broca and the hipster Browns. Standing side by side, both looking and smelling gorgeous, they welcome you to Brockley as you step out of the station. They’re both very friendly, sell great coffee (apparently) and good, healthy food and have equally loyal but distinct fans. And the best thing is that their neighbourly, complimentary offers are made more lovely by their happy coexistence.
Pubs and Bars
Back in the day The Wickham Arms was where it was at on a Tuesday night. The excellent pub quiz was served up with free spam sandwiches by a the landlady who quite literally had smoke coming out of her ears. Various attempts to smarten up the pub have robbed it of all its joy and now if you want cheap pints, TV and a chat the Barge is the only place to be. However if you want a bit more from a boozy night between The Brockley Jack and The Wickham Arms you’ve also got The Brockley Brewery for local beer out of the barrel, Brickfields for sophisticated cocktails and Mr Lawrence’s for award-winning wine. And if you want to dance head to The Jam Circus for regular live music and The Rivoli if you want to dress up for a good old-fashioned night out, out.
Once a one-stop shop for everything from whoopie cushions to watches and weird ornaments, the institution that is Sounds Around has been joined in recent years by Magi’s and Gently on Brockley road – between them offering gorgeous cards, candles, kids stuff, homewares and gifts for every occasion. And Raj’s off-license has been joined by Salthouse Bottles selling a brilliant range of spenny-but-special craft beers, quality wines and posh spirits.
TomBoys is a local shop. But it’s so special I’ve just got to give it it’s own section. You see you don’t just pop into TomBoys to get a haircut, colour or quick blow dry. You go in for the conversation, to catch up with what’s going on in Brockley, to chat to the old ladies, have a counselling session with Tulum, to laugh or maybe to cry. Yep, Tulum has definitely seen a few tears in her 25 years. Unlike the new trendy hairdressers popping up across SE4, you don’t get served wine in TomBoys, you don’t book weeks in advance for an expensive, indulgent ‘experience’. You just sit and wait and get your hair done. And while you do this you drink tea, dunk biscuits, gossip, rant, laugh and sing along to Magic. It’s a proper community hairdressers for men and women, young and old – the place everyone arrives entirely as themselves. And leave feeling a little bit better.
So that’s it. My 12 reasons Brockley will always be my home and why we chose to avoid ‘silicon roundabout’ and the Old Street tech scene to run our own digital business Patchwork from a studio in the heart of the community we love.
Author: Olivia Knight is the Founder of Patchwork and lives in Brockley.