With the Lewisham Fringe Festival running from 15-27 November 2016, The Resident discover the creative side of this culturally diverse, rapidly changing area

Words: Trish Leslie

Lewisham is changing. With an area once dominated by a rather unlovely Loampit Vale roundabout being transformed into an inviting gateway to the town centre and a new riverside park in the pipeline, SE13 is in the process of a much-needed facelift.

When completed the new park, Confluence Place, will slope down to the rivers Quaggy and Ravensbourne, creating a green space that will connect new residential developments to the heart of the town with new pedestrian-friendly, shop-lined links.

The food scene is already thriving, with everything from the Mediterranean influences of Meze Mangal, Levant, Levant Pide and Gennaro’s deli to Rox Burger, billed as Trip Advisor’s No1 burger joint in the whole of London. The hugely popular street food pop-up Lewisham Model Market has been a big hit too.

It’s a hive of arty creativity too. Lewisham Arthouse offers a free public programme of exhibitions, workshops and talks, while The Lewisham Fringe, now into its fourth year, will run from 15-27 November. With over 30 shows in the offing at the 37-seater London Theatre, the festival is gaining a well-deserved reputation for showcasing local talent. Slots are available for just £40 and performers are able to sell tickets on the door or online, allowing budding local stars the chance to try out their acts in front of a paying audience.

As the multi-million pound regeneration of Lewisham gathers pace, nearby Lee and Hither Green are set to benefit from the exciting changes. Popular with young families, largely thanks to their great transport links and good selection of Victorian housing stock and stylish new residential developments, both areas have a strong community feel, with active local residents’ groups dedicated to preserving their neighbourhood’s wonderful charm.

The regeneration of Lewisham will benefit nearby Hither Green and Lee too

Both areas have a seemingly constant flurry of new independent cafes, bars and shops popping up alongside the local favourites. Among the latest arrivals on the already well-catered for Lee Road are Pizza Luciano, a pizza bar and takeaway from the people behind the popular local Luciano’s Restaurant.

The area is fast becoming an arty enclave too thanks to the arrival of Artful Pelican last year. This super gallery on Lee Road is part of the Coombe Trust Fund, a charity that provides free holidays to those in need at their six properties at Westgate-on-Sea.

Through its Street Souls initiative, it also works with many of London’s homeless. Artists who exhibit at the gallery give support by donating a minimum of 25% of any sale, although some donate considerably more – up to 100% of sale proceeds. Look out for a planned exhibition of artworks by homeless, ex-homeless and other vulnerable artists, a project that charity chief executive David Hardy hopes to bring to fruition in the near future.

Over at Hither Green, the area’s village vibe is typified by lovely homeware store Crimson & Clover on Staplehurst Road. Founded by Donna Read, who sells her own textile creations alongside work from other local artists and designers, you’ll find antiques, garden collectables, gifts, cards, wrapping paper and much more on the well-stocked shelves. Read also offers regular workshops such as lino printing and lampshade making – a great way to meet the neighbours as you learn a new skill.

The Cafe of Good Hope (profits go towards the Jimmy Mizen foundation) is among Hither Green’s best coffee shops, though it has plenty of competition including You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, a pretty florist-meets-café next to the station. Outside the station, you’ll find Phil The Fish, selling fresh catches from Grimsby from his van every Wednesday from 12-3pm, adding to the village-within-a-city feel.

It’s the sense of community that makes Hither Green a pleasure to live in

‘It’s the sense of community that makes Hither Green a pleasure to live in and ensures that it isn’t just another dormitory town,’ says Anne Parker of the Hither Green Community Association. ‘If you pop to the shops, someone will wave from across the street and you’ll get a warm smile from the paper shop to the station staff. If you are a parent with young children, there are cafes and classes, and clubs, activities and parks to keep you and the little one entertained all day.’

With similarly enthusiastic sentiments coming from the residents of Lee, not to mention vastly improved transport links, it looks like the estate agents in this part of South East London might need to start hiring extra staff…

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