Squat to success: community centre opens in New Cross

The Field pic: Kara Fox

The Field. Pic: Kara Fox

A derelict squat and overgrown garden has been transformed into a rent-free, community resource for New Cross residents.

The Field, a creative not-for-profit community centre, officially opened its doors last November but only recently became the space the founding members originally envisioned.

Conceived by a tight knit group of New Cross residents, the building serves the local community by providing a free organising space for groups with limited funding.

Located at 385 Queens Road, the Field replaces an uninhabited, half-dilapidated house that was frequented by squatters and drug users for years.

In early 2014, members of the collective approached the landlord, a lawyer who had left the building to rot after plans to turn it into an office space were thwarted by restrictive planning permissions.

The collective eventually negotiated a 5-year, rent-free lease in exchange for a massive renovation effort.

Alice McHugh, 26, one of the collective’s founding members, said the centre’s vision is an attempt to combat the current economic climate that makes “anything different impossible”.

Through a small business loan, a grassroots campaign, and the donations of over 120 local residents and 14 small businesses, the impossible proved otherwise.

McHugh said that support from the local community was crucial to the renovation effort. Lewisham residents inspired by the grassroots campaign were keen to contribute knowing that “it was just us doing it ourselves and not a big company.”

After 9 months of hard work, the Field celebrated its soft opening late last year.

Now the collective encourages local residents to take the next steps in supporting the Field – by using it.

Liz Edwards, who has lived in Lewisham for the past 30 years, recently visited the Field to see if her Palestinian literature book club would be an appropriate fit for the space. She said it was encouraging to see something like this happening in New Cross. “This reminds me of the atmosphere of the 60s and 70s”, she said.

Members of the collective meet once a month to decide on which projects and events the Field will host.

The Field currently houses weekly bike workshops, meetings for the South London Solidarity Foundation, “pay-what-you-can” dinners and more. All events are open to the community, including the monthly project meetings.

“The ethos of the project is to be anything but exploitative,” McHugh said.

Although the building is now open for events, the Field’s final transformation is set for this summer, when it plans to open its garden.

Volunteers interested in contributing to the final stages of the Field’s grassroots effort can lend a helping hand Monday – Wednesdays until July.

For bookings and a schedule of activities visit the Field’s website.

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