HAVELOCK WALK - LEWISHAM
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Havelock Walk in Lewisham is one of the most highly praised live/work schemes in London, a true live/work neighbourhood that has evolved over ten years. Many lessons can be learnt here, on use of space, sense of community and cost.
The scheme, now an established community of south London creatives, is hard to beat as a catalyst for localised regeneration, says the borough's chief planner John Miller. 'The transformation of the street from largely storage and some car repair premises has been quite remarkable.'
It is a far cry from Lewisham's initial reaction. When sculptor Jeff Lowe first submitted his proposals for Havelock Walk 10 years ago, the council's planners were unconvinced that live/work would be viable or even an asset to the area.
'Live/work was fairly common in Clerkenwell then and in warehouse conversions in New York, but not here,' Lowe recalls. Havelock Mews, originally part of a failed Victorian canal enterprise, was then a grim cobbled terrace largely used by mechanics and metal workers or for storage. For Lowe, its appeal lay in the size of the warehouses, with floorspaces ranging from 2-5,000 square feet.
Undeterred by the council's response, he set to work renovating his warehouses, starting with the exteriors. Before long, the planners came calling again. 'They'd been to see it and changed their mind,' Lowe recalls. By the time he took on his third warehouse, the council had declared Havelock Walk a conservation area.
All bar a few of the warehouses have now been converted for use as live/work units, purchased by Lowe then sold on as shells to prospective residents. 'Nearly everyone bought them unrenovated and without planning consent knowing they'd get the planning,' he says.
'We've tried to create something interesting here,' he adds, 'so you have a mix of buildings built around 1850/60 and a couple that are new build'. The two new units, midway along the mews, were designed by an architect who occupies one, with his painter wife. Their adjoining property is occupied by a graphic designer friend.
A stable live/work community
The residents span the gamut of creative professions and all work full-time, some like Lowe also employing staff. 'We've got all kinds of different activities going on – sculptors, painters, ceramicists, architects, fashion design, film, dance, photography,' Lowe says.
The community also has a stability that is part and parcel of its gradual evolution. 'When artists move to a different area that is run down it tends to grow organically,' says Lowe. This, he believes, is what distinguishes Havelock Walk from most other live/work developments. 'By nature developers have to see the thing as a finished project and often it doesn't work as well. You can't just start a community – it has to develop organically.'
But while the neighbours rub along happily there is no forced sense of 'community events'. There have been some joint exhibitions but, for the main part, says Lowe, the neighbourhood association has been more focused on ensuring the integrity of building design than social interaction.
Perhaps the best indicator of the success here of live/work is that, in 10 years, just two residents have moved on and not one unit has reverted to residential use. 'The buildings are big and people genuinely want the spaces and heights they offer. In the end, it's all about space,' Lowe notes.
Work:live proportions have also changed since the first units were completed. 'The guidelines used to be that the ratio was two-thirds work to one-third residential. Then it became 50:50 depending on how much space was being created.'
Not surprisingly property values have also risen. 'They have gone up considerably and it's probably shot itself in the foot in that respect,' reflects Lowe. 'Everyone's getting concerned that artists aren't going to be able to afford it anymore.' The more recent arrivals, he concedes, have been established and already successful artists.
Lowe makes no bones about his own role. As a property developer, he looks to make returns on his investment. He has also ventured into other corners of Lewisham, creating 12 live/work units he lets to art graduates in Hither Green and another development of rented units in Honor Oak.
'More recently I got involved in a very big live/work scheme in south Bermondsey, which I started off but it got too big for me so I'm now getting on with my sculptures.' Finding space to create and exhibit his work in the best possible setting is the more powerful motivator.
Lowe had in fact been given planning permission to convert the church into two units. 'They'd have been about 2,500 square feet each, so big. But as I built it I realised it was much nicer as one! It worked beautifully.'
His willingness to prioritise aesthetics over profit is one of the factors that distinguishes Havelock Walk from run-of-the-mill property investments. 'From a financial perspective it would have been more viable as two but it just didn't work,' he says. 'Mainstream developers don't think like that – by and large they think in terms of square footage and what they can sell it for.'
By adding an additional floor, Lowe has also been able to create a much bigger living space, albeit including work and study areas. It leads him to question the proportions many planners insist on for live/work. 'I think in many ways they could be more realistic, so if you've got a good live/work space on the ground floor the upper floors can all be residential.'
'Planners should really be insisting on genuine live/work. If all a unit amounts to is a one or two bed flat, they should be honest and market it as that – 600 square feet isn't a live/work unit. It's a flat.'
JEFF LOWE'S OWN UNIT
Jeff Lowe's first live/work unit on Havelock Mews, now rented out to a film-maker and writer, is a glorious Alice in Wonderland creation spanning the upper storeys of two warehouses. Starting from just the one large room, he first slept in a raised platform high above the dining room table until improved finances allowed him to extend through the wall, with a dipping stairwell leading further into a spacious and intriguingly quirky apartment. It vividly showcases Lowe's style, blending a building's original features with architectural salvage.
'I prefer that way of building,' he says. 'I like changes and I don't like too much to be known in advance. A lot of the buildings are built around things I find and incorporate so it's a very sculptural way of building.'
One of the highlights of the first apartment is an imposing antique bath, in full working order, once owned by Lady Emma Hamilton.
On the top floor of what is now a three-storey building Lowe has created a sweeping open plan dining room, with kitchen units made from an art deco shop counter and post office sorting desk.
The new house has four bedrooms, all en suite and accessed by Lowe's trademark eccentric stair and floor layouts. Most of the oak flooring once graced Lord's cricket ground.
Downstairs, in Lowe's new gallery space meanwhile, iron columns from Smithfields market help support the upper floors and the entrance gate came from the City of London. They're a fitting counterpoint to his bold steel sculptures but the space will also provide occasional exhibition room for works produced by Havelock Walk's other creative talents.
THE SCHEME AT A GLANCE
Developer: Jeff Lowe