How did DECK Social come about?
I was a town centre manager by trade and worked for Lewisham Council before being made redundant. However, later I went back to work with Lewisham Council as a consultant, working with them and other boroughs on economic and social regeneration. One of the things that has become apparent is that while development is taking place, buildings are just sitting there empty.
Ten years ago when we were looking at meaningful uses of buildings people would say they wanted a youth centre or a community hub and lots of councils were reluctant to do that, because they thought they'd be taken over by squatters. But fast forward 10 years and we know that's not the case, there's lots you can do with disused space for the community.
How we approach things at DECK Social is, rather than providing them with a community centre, we go about finding a place where old and young can come together. We ask people to give us their objectives rather than what they want and it has worked well.
We also consider projects by area. What works in Hackney may not work in Catford or Camberwell, so what we do is look at the demographic, see what’s lacking, what the space is and what the objectives are to find a project that fits.
Tell us about your latest project Parkside Social
Parkside is on an estate that was called Heathside and Lethbridge and when we went there we were set a real challenge, because there’s a real mixed demographic. There are people who have bought a two-bedroom apartment for £650k living alongside families who have been born on the estate.
When you are faced with that you ask 'how do you get these people to talk to each other?' When we were approached to do it, we decided that everyone needs to eat and everyone likes watching a bit of telly, which is how we came up with Parkside Social. It opened at the beginning of the month and will run until next January as a café during the day and on Fridays and Saturdays turns into a bar serving drinks and nibbles.
It also hosts a cinema, showing films every Thursday evening and Saturday morning which are picked by the public from a shortlist we draw up and we're planning to run a number of chef pop-ups on an adhoc basis.
Tell us more about the chef pop-ups:
With each of the pop-ups we try and find people who know the demographic and share the same ethos as us. Rather than getting in the hottest new chef, we tend to go for people with a real passion for what they do. Most of them we work with have full-time jobs and just love cooking, so we try and give them a platform.
Our first pop-up is tonight (25 November) where Indian street food operators Raastawala will be cooking and donating all their profits to the charity Curry for Change. They are from Canterbury and have run supper clubs there, but have just moved to Catford, so they're locals now.
Next month we've got Dangling Carrot, which is run by consultant chef Caroline Fotheringham-Matt. She has worked with traders at Street Feast's Model Market in Lewisham and she's going to be doing a vegan Japanese menu on 6 December.
Later we're working with the founder of the south east London-based food and wine club Chateau Canard. She works as a teacher and originally said she'd love to do something, but couldn't because she didn't have the time, but we've supported her in what she's doing and now she is coming here for a night or so.
What can hospitality operators learn from projects like this?
We always listen to what people want. We hadn't been open long when a young boy wearing a cap and a hoodie walked past and asked if he was allowed in, because everyone else looked sophisticated. I jokingly said of course, as long as he removed his cap and his hoodie, so he came in.
We stocked Karma Cola for £1.20 a can and we were pleased with the fact we were stocking an ethical cola, but this young boy said he didn't drink that, he said he liked Rubicon, so we got him some and now its here for when he comes in.
It's the same with our film choices. The cinema is run by volunteers at Catford Film Club of which I'm a member and we forget that not everyone wants to watch arty films, so we let people choose from a list of four. We've had City of God and Top Gun come out as top choices.
People really do vote with their feet, so you have to give them what they want or they won't come back. We are only here for two to three months, so we are trying as hard as we can to provide what the community wants. We have to be open to things and I guess it's the same for businesses.
Parkside Social is at Parkside Square, Lewisham, SE10 8FY until the end of January.