Interview: Philippe Castaing on Brixton Green

Architects drawings for the 'creative hub' on Somerleyton Rd/Coldharbour Lane

Philippe Castaing, owner of Opus Café, was interviewed in The Guardian last year about his plans for a community hub on Somerleyton Rd. Since then, the name of his project – Brixton Green – has been on the lips of many an eco-friendly local.

But for a long time I haven’t been able to grasp what Brixton Green actually is, or whether it will ever get off the ground. Seemingly nothing has happened to the project since that one celebratory article in The Guardian. I went to the man himself – Philippe Castaing. We meet at Opus on Acre Lane, which Philippe opened in 2001 after he moved here from La Rochelle in France.

The Brixton Green plan is to create a Community Land Trust in Somerleyton Rd – a space with residential housing and public facilities owned and run by the people who live there. London Citizens are trying to do the same in East London.

In the past year, Philippe and his business partner Brad Carroll have been working behind the scenes to convince Lambeth Council that it’s the right thing to do and to make their plans a little more detailed. “Now we know where we’re going”, said Philippe. “We’ve had a proper site survey and got designs from architects”.

Their architects Feildon, Clegg and Bradley have re-imagined the site to include street-facing sustainable housing, a ‘creative hub’ with a theatre space, a children’s centre and a community dental surgery. “The question is how you actually make a community site effective”, explains Philippe. “What is exciting about Brixton is the meeting of generations and backgrounds that happens here – but how do you do that in a new community space? We could, for instance, offer rent reductions if a student agrees work with an older person.”

None of this is confirmed yet – Brixton Green will be pitching for the lease of the site alongside anyone else who cares to. But they have persuaded the Lambeth Regeneration office to stipulate that mutual ownership be fulfilled in some form on Somerleyton Rd – as part of the Brixton Town Masterplan – even if Brixton Green doesn’t win the tender.

And Philippe says he wants to stop working ‘behind-the-scenes’ now. This summer they will launch a share offer and start publicising the initiative. Any member of the community will be able to buy shares in Brixton Green from just £1 and funds will contribute to the pre-planning and feasibility costs of the development. The target is 5,000 members, each of whom will have one vote.

They are looking to the long-term though – Castaing thinks it could be up to 10 years before the project would be fully realized.


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