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The Sunday Paper; Studios edition; Art in unlikely places

Peckham. It’s all anyone (outside of Hackney) talks about. Dressed in Caribbean takeaway shops and hectic

high streets, eclectic characters are never far from its bustling streets. It’s easy to miss Peckham’s hidden charm

and positioning on London’s art map. Tucked south of the river and known to few except well-informed art

students, Peckham is a treasure trove for all.

Spending Sundays strolling through the newest home to the South London Gallery, you’d never know that

Peckham’s former fire station, built in 1867, also housed Kennedy’s sausage factory until it folded in 2007.

You could be easily fooled into thinking that the station was still in operation, yet it opened as an art gallery in

September 2018. Much of its exterior is intact. The traditional street lamp marked ‘engines’ still dangles out

front. Inside, it’s been restructured entirely. The high street-facing, double-fronted, rainbow-coloured glass

doors open onto vast gallery space, disguising the building’s history and masking rooms once occupied by

horse-drawn engines.

It’s a hard time to launch an art space in London with many existing places facing closure or compromising on

creativity, and art residencies needing to be savvier to draw in new audiences. Having seen places burst open

only to snap shut just as sporadically, I was curious to poke around the building and see the revamp in all

its glory. I’d just moved to the neighbourhood and on hearing about its launch, was intrigued as to what sort of

artistic community Peckham had to offer.

At the South London Gallery, the ghosts seem concealed but they are spiritually present. One Sunday, I take

a weekly Heritage Tour offered by the Gallery. Joining a group of OAPs who live locally, I’m humoured by

their in-depth knowledge of South London’s architecture and their way of challenging the tour guide.

Friendly and keen, they make for interesting company as we observe and pause at relics from the building’s past

before we scuttle across the road to SLG’s main space. On any Sunday, it’s alive and filled with people, scribbling,

sketching and stirring in reaction to the art. Set up by philanthropist William Rossiter, the gallery is always open

on the Seventh day as an intentional and complementary alternative to attending mass.

But unless you take the Sunday tour, you’d never know that perched beneath the floorboards in the middle of

the main gallery is a secretly-stashed wooden shrine created by artist, Sir Walter Crane. Occasionally unearthed,

knowledge of its whereabouts is only really shared with Sunday strollers. A reminder to seek out the unknown,

soak up the new space and seize your Sunday, as per its prophetic inscription:

“The source of the art is in the life of the people”

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