What inspires the next generation of London creatives?

A creative exchange is building momentum in South East London

“I like that whole ethos of having a community that’s looked after by the people that lived there, worked there and also ran it,” says Nicholas Okwulu, speaking from the Peckham garage space he’s founded, Livesey Exchange. He is referencing Livesey Ward, which takes its name from George Livesey, a philanthropist and “one of Southwark’s greatest industrialists”. On the wall behind him is a mural by İlayda Bakare, an artist who is part of a cohort of local creatives making use of Livesey Exchange. “I'm trying to create a two way process between those who've got and those who don't have,” Okwulu explains of the ‘exchange’ in the title. He believes in getting the community more involved in the regeneration that is going on right now in this pocket of South East London.

Okwulu saw potential in Old Kent Road early on. He set up a social enterprise, Pempeople (People empowering people), to ensure that the local community was involved in the ongoing reformation of the area, ensuring they continue to take up space and can afford to be there, too. It is this drive that led him to get involved with London Design Festival. He wanted to bring two groups together: the design cohort and the grassroots community. 2020 marked the first ever Peckham Design Trail; and for 2021, Okwulu spearheaded the Southwark South design district, in collaboration with designer Jan Hendzel.

Hendzel, who’s furniture business has been based in Peckham for nearly 16 years, noticed that Southwark was lacking firm roots for its creative population. Cue the new design district, a central triangle of Peckham, including Copeland Gallery and Peckham Levels, Camberwell and Old Kent Road, encompassing Mountview drama school and Livesey Exchange.

The talent at Livesey Exchange spans mediums of music, photography, screen printing, fashion and podcasting, says Okwulu. Fostering a diverse range of creative outputs is also key to London Design Festival’s agenda, and for the inaugural Southwark South showcase, it was all about discovery. Okwulu says his ideal review would be: “We saw what you guys are doing on Old Kent Road and we just thought we'd just pop in and see.” His mission is to simply encourage and facilitate interaction with the movements here, which are happening, slowly but surely.

Visitors were encouraged to explore, interact, move, and make words with the letters, which consist of 26 bespoke colourful alphabet chairs popping up in Finsbury Avenue Square.