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Open House Weekend – Peckham

After spending the weekend nosing around other people’s homes, the Mother feel bothered by something. Something was missing from this whole Open House event. An absence of something, but what?  

There wasn’t a lack of bespoke Sapele joinery and glass. If anything, there was too much of that. Nor was there a shortage of Georgian brick houses with modern adaptations, including solar paneling. As for homes with interconnected semi-open-plan rooms, well, they were in abundance. So what was it? 

What did Open House weekend lack? And then it comes to her in a flash – She had an epiphany which was something she did not have to often, given that she found it so difficult to spell! Where were the council flats, the bedsits, and squats? Where was the sub-standard temporary accommodation with damp walls and dodgy heating? And where were the cheap generic kitchens and retractable washing lines above the bath? Nowhere to be fucking seen, that’s where.

She has to do something about this, redress the balance as it were. There and then, she decides that next year she too will take part in the event. After all, it seems grossly unfair that rich people did not get to see how the other half live too. 

There must be literally thousands of unfortunate people out there who’ve never had the opportunity to walk around a council estate. Worse still, they’ve missed out on a view of London from the 16th floor of a tower block. Yes, the bar at the Tate Modern isn’t the only place where you can get a good view of the city. It was unjust that they should be denied this experience. With trepidation, she began work on an introduction to social housing i.e. her flat. 

A roof over one’s head.

Originally designed and built during the Victorian era, this house once housed a very wealthy family. Several decades later, however, its appearance and the social standing of its tenants have both changed somewhat. Now owned by the Peckham Heights housing association, this once splendid property has been repurposed and made into two separate flats. Once upon a time, the house could have been the setting for a period drama. The condition on the property has deteriorated so badly now that if you saw anyone filming, you’d know a new horror film was in the making. 

For anyone wondering how the shabby and rundown appearance has been achieved, the secret is several decades of poor upkeep coupled with the use of low-cost materials for any maintenance work. 

First, we have the kitchen, pay attention to the creative use of space. The family has managed to create a dining area by adding in a fold-out table. The table is precariously connected to the wall using two hinges. Although there is only room at the table for one or possibly two people at a time, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Mealtimes for this family of four are simply staggered. Instead of the courses arriving at different points in the evening, the diners do. 

If you look under the kitchen table, you will notice a small fridge, cleverly tucked away. Tenants in the social housing sector are highly skilled at utilising tiny gaps and crevices in their accommodation. A cupboard becomes a spare bedroom. A kitchen, well, it’s not just a kitchen, more a kitchen/dining room/study area. Does this home have an outdoor space? Yes, of course, it has a dilapidated old balcony with a window box. 

Until very recently, one could still find some charming little London flats which boasted a bathtub in the kitchen. This unique and unusual kitchen/bathroom design is a classic feature of post-war architecture. This ingenious idea of creating two rooms in one allows tenants to make a sandwich while also shaving their legs. 

Don’t leave the kitchen without looking through the windows at the view of the back garden. Notice how the poor design of the flat allows tenants to see a rear garden to which they have no access. What a pain in the arse, and best of all, this design flaw means that on the north side of the house, they can never, ever get their windows cleaned. Talk about a faux pas. 

Take a peek in the corner cupboard, which is home to toiletries and medicines. This area has been created as the bathroom is so compact, it has no space for a cabinet or shelves.  

Another unusual feature of the kitchen is the slanting floor. A marble would literally roll from one side to the other if you placed it in front of the washing machine. This effect has been achieved by years of neglect, subsidence, and by the housing association refusing to pay for the floor to be rehung. 

Moving on to the landing, you can see a repaired plug socket. Look at the state the electrician has left the wall in, knocking the plaster out and then not giving a shit about the nuance it creates. Where’s the Poles when you need them?! This kind of workmanship is rarely seen in private homes. However, it is an exquisite feature of many Peckham Heights properties. 

Now, moving along the landing to the bathroom, you will discover two massive, great bikes in the way. What a stupid place to put them.  

“Why these aren’t in the shed in the garden?” One might ask.

There isn’t one. 

Chained up outside? 

Tried that, the last bike still got nicked. 

In the downstairs hallway, perhaps? 

Also tried but were informed it was a fire hazard. 

Hanging up on big hooks in the stairs? 

Again tried, but the brickwork and plaster were so weak that the hooks came down, and the bike fell off the wall. So you see the problem now.

Still, the bathroom can be easily accessed if one simply does a little dance down the hallway, stomach in, turn, now twist and, well done, you’ve made it. Although getting in is relatively simple, if you remember the dance steps, getting out may prove more difficult. To exit, tenants must ensure their bottom is pressed up against the sink in order to allow enough space for the door to open inward. While admiring the bathroom, take some time to examine the workmanship and quality of the materials used, which are technically known as “absolute shit”. Peckham Heights, who only refurbish the bathroom every 15 years, have clearly used the cheapest materials known to man. They also did the job on the fly. After two years, there are already cracks appearing in the paintwork, and the panelling is coming away. 

Again, see how space has been utilized here, with the airer placed in the bath to allow clothes to dry, albeit very slowly. The tiny space at the end of the bath has been used to store a skateboard. There is even a cat litter tray in here. One wonders if Victoria Beckham ever has to find somewhere else to put the airer when she wants a bath. And where on earth she keeps her skateboard and cat litter tray.  

Moving on to the front room, if you look up, you will see a motif which is repeated throughout the property – a long crack in the ceiling. The housing association has said that these cracks are “unavoidable and cannot be repaired”. This is strange as everyone on the Mother’s road who actually owns their property seems to have no difficulty in getting builders to rectify this problem. 

Regardless of the worrying cracks in the ceiling, this is still a very important area of the home. What makes the front room quite distinctive is that it is also used as a study, dining area and guest bedroom. Consistent with Victorian architecture, the room boasts three large, ornate sash windows. These beautiful windows allow light to flood into the front room. They also allow the tenants to keep an eye on the street below and possibly catch a glimpse of the wankers who keep trying to break into their car. 

The rustic look of the walls in the box bedroom has been created by the tenants removing three layers of dated wallpaper, revealing crumbling plaster which can be dated back to the Roman era. Sadly, the characteristic look of the rest of the property is not continued in this room as there is no sign of cracks in the ceiling. 

The final stop is the master bedroom. Or is that what it is? Clearly, one can see a double bed at one end of the room and a child’s bed at the other. The room has been cleverly split into two bedrooms using an Ikea shelf unit, essentially creating a third bedroom in the property. Necessity is after all the mother of invention. 

One must not forget the garden, which is completely inaccessible. The entrance to the front garden has been cleverly blocked with dustbins. The ugly wall which has been built around the bins is an early example of fascist architecture – a style rarely seen now. With access to the garden all but impossible, tenants can always sit on the doorstep if they want to capture that outdoor feeling. Sunbathing, however, is out of the question. 

All in all, this property provides a unique insight into the lives of working-class people. It is a must-see in this year’s collection of properties. If you would like to visit this flat, please arrive early as long queues are expected, possibly up to an hour. Although this should be a walk in the park compared to the amount of time the tenants have been waiting to be rehoused. Six years and counting. 

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