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Thamesmead: How Peabody’s Southmere scheme is transforming Abbey Wood

Housing Association has 30-year plan to refresh a massive slice of London connected to Crossrail

An artist’s impression of Peabody’s Southmere Village

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A t present, the journey from Canary Wharf to Abbey Wood takes a little over 40 minutes.

The various Frankenstein options available involve much chopping and changing – the Jubilee line, the DLR, the 486 bus and Thameslink can all come into the equation. It’s anything but direct.

But, if the seers are to be believed, all that’s about to change. When Elizabeth line services start running (perhaps as early as March, if the optimists have it right), Abbey Wood is set to be the end of the line for Crossrail’s central and eastern section.

That will put it squarely in touch with a whole swathe of central London, which is currently much trickier to travel to. The Wharf itself is expected to be around 11 minutes’ ride on a single train.

Why does this matter? Effective transportation is the lifeblood of regeneration. In east London, this is best demonstrated by Canary Wharf itself, which struggled as a project until the Jubilee line extension arrived.

What such connections mean for residential areas is possibility – the ability to rapidly access different parts of the city and the things they offer makes living in an area a richer experience.

It’s also a two-way street. Visitors come back the other way, further enlivening a place and befitting its residents.

Peabody’s Matt Foulis at the Southmere marketing suite – image Matt Grayson

No wonder Matt Foulis of Peabody is smiling. London’s oldest housing association took over ownership of Thamesmead, served by Abbey Wood to the south, in 2014 and has a 30-year plan to regenerate the area.

But as project director, Matt’s enthusiasm isn’t drawn solely from the opportunities Crossrail will bring.

It’s because he already knows what the area has to offer and can see how it will continue to develop over the course of the next three decades.

“We are under way on a the delivery of around 20,000 homes at Thamesmead,” he said.

“We completed our first development – The Reach – a couple of years ago, we’ve just started on a site at Plumstead in partnership with Berkeley and we are currently delivering what we’re calling Southmere Village – phase one of our regeneration of south Thamesmead near Abbey Wood station.”

When completed, Southmere will see 1,600 homes built across four sites close to Crossrail, new public space in the form of Cygnet Square and The Nest – a library and community centre – as well as commercial space for shops, restaurants and bars.

The scheme offers a mixture of properties available for social rent or to buy either on a shared ownership basis or via private sale. Residential blocks Starling Court and Kestrel Court are due to complete in the coming months, with strong sales reported. 

A collection of one, two and three-bedroom shared ownership properties is set to launch at Crane Court on February 12.

An artist’s impression of Peabody’s Southmere Village

Matt said: “Our properties have sold really well – I think people are really buying into the wider vision for Thamesmead.

“Over the last two years in particular, everybody has woken up to the importance of green space and proximity to water and the impact they can have on your life, your health and your wellbeing.

“That’s what we have here – Thamesmead has five artificial lakes with Southmere the biggest and they’re connected by a network of canals.

“They were designed as a surface drainage system but it means we have these fantastic assets that people can enjoy, surrounded by really impressive green spaces.

“Peabody owns, operates and manages all of these areas so we’ve got overall control of everything that’s going on in the area and that has a real impact for not only the people we’re trying to bring to the area, but also existing residents.”

Beyond the infrastructure, Peabody is also working to boost the cultural capital of Thamesmead, perhaps best known for its Brutalist architecture.

This served as a backdrop to Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian cinematic nightmare A Clockwork Orange and, more recently, in the music video for The Libertines’ What Became Of The Likely Lads.

A show apartment at the development

Matt said: “We’ve got a huge programme that we’ve been operating for the last four or five years.

“That includes things like a regular one-day festival curated by local residents in Southmere Park, which attracted 6,500 visitors last year.

“People who may never have heard about the area or visited it are starting to hear about it and it’s starting to draw people in, which has been fantastic.

“We’ve also set up a culture forum so people living here can help shape what goes on locally.

“That’s grown and grown – we’ve supported theatre productions and a live performance of the film Beautiful Thing, which was made in Thamesmead a few years back.

“It’s these sort of things we want to do – grass-roots, community-led projects that are really accessible. 

“We’ve had dance troupes, drummers and gymnasts perform in housing estates – things that are visual and tangible that people from all backgrounds, young and old, can really enjoy.

“This year we have a project called Fields Of Everywhen, which will see two artists inflate and fly an enormous hot air balloon made from tapestries that capture the personal stories of local residents.

“They spent two years working on it and finding out what makes Thamesmead tick. These activities are being driven by Peabody and we’re here for the long term.

“We expect there to be around £10billion of investment in Thamesmead over the course of the 30-year plan.

“For example, with funding from the Greater London Authority, we’ve refurbished a building called the Lakeside Centre on Southemere Lake to provide artists’ studios, a cafe, a training kitchen and a nursery – that’s being operated by Bow Arts. 

“Next to that we’ll shortly be letting a contract to build a boating and sailing centre to be run by the YMCA, which has operated on the lake for 30 years.

“It’s about making sure we’re providing amenities for everybody to enjoy with activities like kayaking, sailing and paddleboarding. 

“Eventually we’d really like to open up the canal systems so people can use them to move around Thamesmead in addition to the cycle routes and pavements.”

The shared ownership properties set to be released at Crane Court offer prospective buyers open-plan living areas, balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows in distinctive brick-clad blocks within easy walking distance of Abbey Wood station.

“They will be fantastic places to live,” said Matt. “We’ve tried to maximise views over the lake and newly built Cygnet Square where people will have all the amenities they need on hand.

“There’s car parking in secure courtyards under the blocks with podium gardens that are communal but for residents only.

“There will also be an on-site concierge service with a residents’ lounge that people can use to work from if they choose.

“Combine that with the restaurants and cafes, which will be opening around the square later this year, and that will give people  a lot of flexibility if they’re not going into the office.

“I’ve already seen people logging into the Wi-fi on seats around the lake with their coffee and doing the first two hours while sitting by the water.”

When investing in property, there’s also the future to think of and Peabody has big plans for the wider area including an extensive development to the north west of Southmere along the banks of the Thames.

There it hopes to attract an extension to the DLR across the river from Gallions Reach, further boosting local connectivity – not a bad time to get in on the ground.

Prices for shared ownership properties at Crane Court start at £91,500 for 30% of a one-bed, based on a full market value of £305,000.

Two and three-beds start at £118,500 and £153,000 respectively for the same proportion, based on full market values of £395,000 and £510,000.

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