Originally from South Yorkshire, in 1976 Malcolm moved onto the Pepys Estate with a fellow teacher; he was in his mid-twenties. The three-bedroom flat was “hard to let”, but blessed with a fantastic view. “You could see the vista of South East London as far as Crystal Palace and the other side had a view onto the Thames.” Deptford and its history were important to understanding the local community. The area stood on the banks of what was once a busy working river, with hustle and bustle generated by industry, export and import activity and where the Royal Navy was based. Malcolm describes how the past “still kind of echoes around the area…most people had a family member or an uncle or father who had been involved in the docks.”
Malcolm became involved in setting up Pepys Community Forum (PCF), along with Lewisham Council, community development workers and Magpie Consultancy, headed by Jess Steele. He has volunteered since the organisation’s first Annual General Meeting in 2000, first as vice-chair for a year, and then as chair. The organisation’s work has always been inspired by a desire to bring about changes for local people in response to what he describes as many of the same issues facing communities now.
Originally funded in 1999 by a Conservative government’s scheme to regenerate inner cities1, its work was focused on developing a community-led organisation that supported local people to take hold of their own services.
“My aspiration was to do some good for the local area. We were really keen to see the projects were done through local people…to try address the needs they’d been saying were not being addressed for a long, long time.”
The organisation took on responsibility for staff recruitment, project work, management of funding and the administration of bids from community organisations and groups. Between 1999 and 2006 it received £3.2 million from the scheme and received match funding which brought spending to over £5 million. PCF became “a kind of umbrella for all the organisations”, funding a community, youth and resource centres and lots of small satellite projects.
“It came about through local activists…wanting to do something in the area…and many of the original people are still around now.”
PCF also started new projects up as ideas came along, such as Refugee Education Employment and Training and Advice (REETA). This was mainly in response to Black-African, Vietnamese, Chinese, other migrants and refugees coming to the area. Malcolm explains, “We wanted a project that helped them directly and we ended up actually employing local people, who were living in the area, but had those language skills…”
The other main project was the John Evelyn Community Garden in Deptford, named after the C17th writer, gardener and diarist. Both have been running since around 2002. “People wanted things for the environment. They were into ecology; they were into alternative energy; they were into organic ways of growing.” Many years later, people are still enjoying the garden. “It’s so different from everything else around.”
Malcolm is proud to have been part of a team that started something the legacy of which remains today. The organisation still looks to support new ideas. “You came along with a new proposal for a project or an idea we would look at it and analyse it and then help you frame it…to the point where it could get funded.”
Still the organisation’s ambition is to have assets, premises and income to complement the appetite for ideas. A lack of capital funding has meant the organisation has never had its own premises so has had to move offices over the years.
Other projects that Malcolm is proud to have been involved with include True Self, helping local people improve physical and mental health; Mango and Spice, a childcare social enterprise set up by two female entrepreneurs; Splash, involving young people connect to Deptford’s river and naval heritage.
“You have to be a leader, you just have to be involved, and there is just so much to do. There’s not really any advice to give, it will just come upon you and you do it in your own way.”
Voice 4 Deptford is a new PCF project trying to address the large Convoys Wharf, originally the site of the Royal Navy in Deptford. “We’re trying to get a benefit for local people in Deptford, with social rented housing in the development.”
1 The Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) was introduced in April 1994. It combined twenty previously separate programmes designed to bring about economic, physical and social regeneration in local areas. www.landecon.cam.ac.uk
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