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.
'The council produced supplementary guidance to promote the use of live/work in Havelock Walk but it was Jeff who persuaded us that live/work could be done,' says head of planning John Miller. 'He played a major role in promoting the concept here. All we did was facilitate it through changing our planning policy.'
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.
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.
He has achieved this by moving from the far end of the mews to a former Pentecostal church at the entrance. Downstairs, his sculptures are displayed in a new gallery alongside a small library and photographic rooms. Upstairs he has added an additional floor to create a two-storey four bedroom apartment, with extra office space and a roof terrace.
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.'
But his real ire is reserved for developers he believes are abusing the live/work model. 'Some developers have created space where you really want to work. But some floors are not ideal for it – say on the fourth floor. And a lot of the units now on the market are just too small.
'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 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.
The conversion of his new home at the entrance to Havelock Mews has been done more conventionally in terms of planning the project. But it too is distinguished by imaginative use of salvage. Stone pediments from Portugal and wrought iron from France adorn the fascia and balcony.
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.
Developer: Jeff Lowe
Council: LB Lewisham
Description: 12 live/work units created from shells of former two-storey industrial warehouses in a mews road behind the shopping area on London's south circular. Now part of a subsequently declared conservation area
Big selling point: Unique development offering ample floor and ceiling space in self-contained former warehouses within a now established community of creative livework businesses. Close to high street retail and overground rail, targeted for tube extension
Scale and live/work ratio: floorspaces between 3-5,000 sq ft. Proportions vary from 70% accommodation to 32%
Facilities: No shared facilities but residents regularly hold open studios and have formed the Havelock Walk Association, primarily 'to preserve the visual integrity of the street'
Stage/tenure: All privately owned and all completed and occupied. Two have since changed hands
Occupants: All creative professionals, some with families. Specialisms include dance, graphic design, fashion design, architecture, filmmaking, ceramics, painting, sculpture and photography
Controls to ensure continued work use: Self-policing but buildings unsuited to purely residential use
Funding: High street mortgages
EMP 6 'Live/work developments'
Live/work developments will be welcome in defined town centres and locations closely associated with local shopping parades where the use does not conflict with residential amenity or other policies [in the unitary development] plan. Applications for live/work developments in defined employment areas and other employment sites will be considered against the exceptions in the relevant policies.
Live/work developments can be defined for the purpose of this plan as self-contained small business units, with a proportion of the accommodation capable of being used for residential purposes on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. They can provide valuable accommodation for starter businesses in that housing and business facilities are combined in one unit, representing a substantial cost saving. The council wishs to encourage these uses as much as possible as an aid to the regeneration and diversification of the local economy. However there are some concerns that these units will be difficult to maintain in business use due to the high turnover in starter businesses. Wholly residential uses may start to be introduced into employment areas.
The council wishes to keep control of this process and will consent to live/work developments in employment areas in the limited circumstances described. The council will seek to enter into S106 agreements with developers in defined employment areas, and also in buildings covered by policy EMP3 [* employment sites outside defined employment areas] to ensure a proportion of the business floorspace is retained in perpetuity. Town centre locations and sites associated with local shopping parades are considered to be particularly suitable for this type of development as they have the advantages of a business location and an environment more suitable for residential use.