‘A glorious failure.’
Every shop was burnt out. Fire bombed in the South London riots of 1986. This was the scene at the Gloucester Grove Estate, North Peckham as the 80s ended.
One solitary shop space was resurrected. It was Pecan’s first major project, a laundrette.
Based in a rented garage and furnished with the support of local churches, it became an opportunity to serve the community. By employing local people and selling coffee and sweets, it began to establish itself as a social centre for the estate.
According to one resident it was, ‘the best thing the church has ever done for us.’
But it wasn’t without its problems. Many school children would play truant and spend their days at the centre. Burglaries were frequent. One day a girl was spotted wheeling a trolley full of stolen sweets into her house!
Pecan founder Simon Pellew was at the launderette every day for its first six months. ‘I did the evening shift,’ he recalls. ‘I’d mop the floor and vacuum out the dryers. Then this gang of huge guys would come in, surround me and suggest I give them all free Mars bars.’
Despite the struggles there was a real determination to succeed. The staff built good relationships with many of the 350 weekly visitors and began to sense a change in the atmosphere of the estate.
This continued until 1992 when increased break-ins, violence and high running costs finally forced the laundrette to close.
‘A glorious failure,’ is how Simon describes it, believing this description will encourage staff not to be afraid of failure or risk-taking.
And he was right. It set a course we still follow today.