Looking back over 2010, I’m struck by how my feelings about the area I live have changed. Ten years ago when me and my partner moved into the area I didn’t especially like Catford or Hither Green, ten years later it feels like home.
It’s taken a long time. We’d moved from leafy Clapham where we lived in a Victorian conversion flat with high ceilings and a beautifully designed garden. In contrast, our Victorian terrace in Catford did – apparently – offer a great many opportunities. But given the office-blue carpets throughout and seemingly never-ending magnolia walls, those opportunities were yet to be discovered.
The starting point was redecorating. But, contrary to what the TV makeover programmes made out at the time, it was to take longer than a few months to transform a shell into a property one might sell at a profit. We had to be in this for the long-haul. That all seemed like such a massive journey. Why were we embarking on it? Why had we moved here?
At the same time, I couldn’t see much in the area which offset the lack of life in our house or our garden. Nearby Lewisham isn’t especially pretty. Catford is even worse. And although there’s a village struggling to emerge from Hither Green, it’s only really Blackheath (a good 30 minute walk away – or ten minute drive) which offers the ‘chi-chi village in the capital’ experience we indulged in when we were living in Clapham.
Ten years later however, things have changed. Things have changed considerably. Every room in the house has finally been redecorated. This year saw the completion of our bathroom. I also ventured back into our upstairs living room (after years of neglect), something we had named ‘The Den‘ as soon as we’d moved in ten years ago. It’s a quiet place. Much-sought after in fact. I love it. The kitchen has been strengthened. The last bits of blue carpet finally replaced too. And, following an accident with hot coals and a plastic bucket only the other, the office upstairs has got a long awaited carpeting too. The house is complete.
But there’s another angle. It’s not just that 2010 feels like our house finally became our home, but it’s also this year that I personally felt like we were part of the local community. And that has been as a result of a series of low-key invitations to equally modest but very warm social engagements with our neighbours.
The most recent was shortly before Christmas. The invitation was received in a Christmas card. Be there at 8pm. Drinks and nibbles. Meet the neighbours.
Those neighbours we’d met were people who had lived in the same road as us for twenty-five years or so. They spoke of the people who lived in our house before us. Not only did those neighbours seem like people we’d want to spend more time with but they also provided us with context in the community we hadn’t realised we needed or wanted.
All this coincides with a creeping realisation that I’ve reached a rather odd phase in my personal response to the sights and sounds of the local area I occasionally trot around as well.
There was a time when the sight of the Copperfield pub close to Catford Station (see the slideshow above) filled me with fear and dread. Glancing across the sports ground opposite the pub would make feel depressed. The cricket pavillion looked so delapidated. The houses around it looked so ramshackle.
So too Lewisham High Street. The smell of fresh meat, fruit stalls and cigarette smoke made the approach the shopping centre an unnerving experience, a far cry from the Suffolk market town I used to skip around with my mother as a kid.
But, at the end of this year, I look on such sights are being evidence of thriving communities. Lewisham High Street is always bustling. People smile. People stop to talk to one another. My long-standing friend from Suffolk often goes to the Lewisham Shopping Centre to get bits and bobs. It’s a focal point, like the handful of ramshackle shops down on nearby Sandhurst Road. A small community hub on a busy road. And with affordable housing going up opposite the train station in Lewisham as well, there’s an undeniable nod to a modernised future. One taking into account the people who are setting down their roots in Lewisham. The sight of cars speeding around the Lewisham roundabout now make the place look like a destination rather than something I assume everyone wants to drive through just because I wanted to at one time.
And then there’s our nearby railway station – Hither Green. From the footbridge the view across to central London and nearby Isle of Dogs is a stage set dressed by all sorts of dramatic lighting from the sky. It is the smallest of pleasures – quaint almost – which has over time slowly worked its magic on me, bringing me round to its charms. Stories yearn to be told. People live here.
I know that this experience is not unusual. I remember feeling exactly the same way after a year of living in Aldeburgh. Without warning I realised I was resisting taking the next stage in my career because it would mean I’d have to leave what felt like home. My university friends at the time considered my desire to remain in East Suffolk as bizarre. It was the pull of the community which made me want to stay there.
So too now. Ten years putting down roots have transformed my view of the locality. This is home.