Hilary Cottam > Blog > Work > Rooms of Our Own

Rooms of Our Own

I’m moving this week – into a small studio in a car park. I will be working above a cello maker, next door to architects and just down the corridor from the women of colour collective gal-dem. So I will have good company, a window that opens and a shared sense of possibility.

Finding an affordable place to work in London is hard and I feel lucky to have found one in the community where I live and to be co-habiting with a group of people who want to be part of something bigger that gives back to the community. We have all promised to do this as part of our lease.

Peckham Levels spreads over seven floors of a former multi-storey car park whose roof has already been made famous as the site of Hannah Barry’s Bold Tendencies art exhibitions. In the summer we Peckhamites with other Londoners enjoy the view from Frank’s the sounds of the Multi-Story Orchestra and the patches of Jarmanesque gardening that pop up.

Down below on Level Four my space will give me room to start a new project about modern work. In a rapidly changing economy how do we find and create good work? How can we progress?   In Britain today only one in five make it off the first rung of the ladder into well-paid, stable work. Sixty percent of families are trapped in jobs where the wages are so low that they must be topped up by benefits, as I described in my last blog post. We are living through a revolution – the digital revolution – and things are out of kilter.

The previous industrial revolution gave birth to the Trades Union movement – collective organisations that fought for workers rights and better working conditions. Today a very small percentage of the work force is part of a union. There is a younger generation in the Trades Union movement inventing inspiring new forms of belonging but more change is needed. So what new forms of support, learning and organisation should we create for our own industrial revolution? These are the questions I will be asking.

At Peckham Levels these questions have a particular resonance. Peckham – where I have lived for over a decade – is changing fast. The excitement about all things from our fine food to a local Chanel fashion show were described recently in the Financial Times. Many of these changes have made Peckham a great place to live and work. But escalating property prices and gentrification are starting to squeeze out that same diversity and creativity that make Peckham peculiar and great. We need new ways to re-invent our cities that allow for new forms of living and working too. These challenges are closely connected.

So, I’m looking forward to having a room of my own in a space that is shared. And I’m hoping to be part of a new form of work and urban change.