Last week I was invited to a free screening at Peckham Multiplex. The film, called Consume Peckham, was a project by students from Chelsea Art College and included 18 short films about local businesses and the people behind them (part of the I Love Peckham 2009 Development Project). The aim was to explore the complex link between culture and commercialism. Apparently the students were pretty disappointed when they found out they were coming to Peckham (as one shopkeeper said to me just yesterday, “we just can’t get away from Del Boy, and it wasn’t even filmed here”) but soon became smitten with the warmth of the people and addictive buzzing energy of Rye Lane.
The short films focused on businesses like the many food shops, the local radio station, The Bussey Building (full of churches and artists), and my personal favourite, Ozzie’s Cafe. I’ve walked past the place nearly every day but never considered going in. The woman sat next to me in the cinema (Eileen Conn, the inspiring force behind Peckham Residents’ Network), told me she eats there all the time (egg and chips), and when I paid a visit on Saturday morning, I found people from all walks of life: students, pensioners, and of course, the hardcore regulars. One such long timer was interviewed by the students and caused much mirth in the cinema with his poetry recitations. I couldn’t help but feel that some of these people were lost souls, anchored to the community by a place like Ozzie’s. The students describe how, “customers come to sit and enjoy the company of others without even speaking a word.”
Peckham is often a place of division between the people. One of the most striking things about the film was how it so clearly portrayed the divide between the white, middle class residents and the large proportion of people (many Nigerian), who have moved here from other countries and who make up the majority of the population. Most of the well-to-do local art students for example will be found in Bar Story, Peckham’s trendiest bar, with one lamenting, “there is nowhere else to go.” We noted the same predominantly white audience in the screening and I commented that the same was apparent at Frank’s pop-up bar.
Ozzie’s is different. Ozzie’s is the kind of place everyone feels comfortable. This is the role of the local caff: all-welcoming, no pretensions, no frills, no-one hurrying you to leave. All of human life is here. The food at Ozzie’s is pretty rubbish to be honest – questionable mystery meat bangers, tinned mushrooms, cheap juice, you get the idea – but then that really isn’t the point. Places like this are part of a routine, ‘the poetic and mundane details of the everyday.’ They remind us that the world keeps turning, the caff keeps opening and life goes on, no matter what happens in individual lives, and that can be a very comforting thought.