Pepys Resource Centre: an inclusive community space open to all

 

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I remember walking past Pepys Resource Centre many times, always standing in front of the locked doors wondering why this interesting-looking library was closed. And then, in October 2017, it suddenly came to life with regular opening times and people coming in and out. Today, the library is open every day (Mo – Fri) with activities throughout the week: English lessons for Syrian refugees twice a week, arts and crafts, reading, cinema and popcorn and outdoor activities for children, free Pilates classes on Tuesdays, a befriending club for the elderly on Wednesdays with quizzes, singing and other activities, and WE Women Circle on Fridays, where women share their talents and skills such as cooking, arts and crafts, dancing and other activities. WE Women – Women Empowering Women is the group that runs the library that volunteer every day of the week to keep the library open, to organise activities and to cook lunch every day, lunch that is eaten in the library space together with people that happen to be there (images below and above).

The building that houses the library is owned by Hyde (Housing Association) and is leased by Eco communities. Before the library was re-opened, it was used mostly as storage space, open to the public just 16 hours a week. Then members of WE Women, which was set up in March 2017, approached the leaseholder saying that they wanted to transform the space into a community space. Since October 2017, WE Women have been working hard to provide an inclusive community space open to all. Not long after opening, I met Luciana Duailibe and Joyce Jacca, the two women who volunteer at the library every day, running the day-to-day activities, cooking lunch and helping people to access the library. We have had many stimulating conversations over the months, in the library and at events in other places. In summer 2018, I had a long conversation with Luciana, about the library, her vision of the world and the work that she is engaged in. This is what she told me:

“I moved to Deptford 14 years ago and have stayed ever since. What I love most about Deptford is its diversity. When an area is diverse it is so rich because diversity creates opportunities, opportunities to learn and flourish. Some people are scared of diversity because they fear difference, they are so wrapped up inside of themselves that they forget about others, but for me, it’s the opposite. I love difference because it’s not me so I see it as an opportunity to expand myself, to learn and to transcend my own self. Deptford is a place where the world meets and so it has a lot of opportunities. My daughter for example, she always used to play with a Chinese boy and I used to ask him: ‘How do you say Good Morning in Chinese? How do you say How are you?’ And then my daughter started learning Mandarin when she was in Secondary School. Deptford for me means opportunities to learn, to become more sociable, and to be more tolerant. Many people are not even aware of all the opportunities out there because generally, our society is so rooted in prejudice; people don’t share, don’t collaborate, don’t cooperate. I think we are ONE in this whole world, we are ONE people, ONE human race, we are humans living in this world and we should get together and make the most of it. This is why I’m involved in lots of community projects; this is why I’m here all the time, opening the library, sharing this community space and helping people to get involved. The library is open for meetings, we exchange books, time, and talent. For example, there is a lady, a Flamenco dancer, and she rehearses here on Tuesdays, using the space for free. As an exchange she gives free Pilates classes. So it’s this kind of exchange!”

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Luciana’s nickname is Tinhanha. It’s a nickname she’s had since the age of 13 and was given to her by her cousin, who instead of calling her auntie Luciana, came out with Tinhanha. This nickname was to define Luciana’s future path as Tinhanha in Tupi-Guarani, the primitive Brazilian language, means exchange. “My whole life has been based on exchange, on giving and receiving, on sharing. I have a lot to give and a lot to learn, which is why I’m involved with so many activities to make our community a better place.” Indeed, Luciana not only volunteers at the library every day where she helps run the centre, she is also treasurer of Deptford Neighbourhood Action Group (DNA), a member of Voice4Deptford, treasurer of Kender Primary School where she raises money for school events and equipment, helps out at school events and acts as playmate for the children to help teachers. As well as this, she is Chair of Co-oPepys Community Arts Project, a charity that focuses on arts for mental health and well-being and where artists can access truly affordable studios. Luciana has been involved with Co-oPepys for more than 11 years and tells me of her remarkable journey: “When I first came here, I couldn’t speak any English but I didn’t want to go to English classes doing boring grammar exercises. Instead, I made handmade toys for local children and took them to places like Sure Start and 2000 Community Centre. Word got out about ‘the lovely things I was making’ and eventually I met Joyce, who was organising a carnival here on the estate. She loved what I was doing and introduced me to a friend so that we could do workshops together for children during the carnival. And that’s how I met Dalva, who was involved in Co-oPepys and in the carnival preparations we did there. I became a member and together with Dalva, who sadly passed away four years ago, we managed to clear the debt Co-oPepys had accumulated, got funding and got the place back on track. This encounter between Dalva and me changed both our lives as we both got heavily involved with communities in our local area.”

Sadly, Co-oPepys is under threat and Luciana is trying very hard to keep it open. Unsurprisingly, the council want to transform the space into flats. They had already received a one-month’s eviction notice on the pretence that the space lacked fire safety, but Luciana managed to fight against this. “They used fire risk – basically the tragedy of Grenfell – to get us out. They told me that if a fire happened, as manager of the space, it would be my responsibility. This made me really angry because over all those years, I had reported leaks, dodgy electrics, a dangerous roof and many other things – all of which got ignored. How was it that they were suddenly concerned about fire when they left leaks and the dangers of electricity and water getting together for years? So I said that we weren’t going to move until we’ve found another similar space and that we need to work together on this. I proposed the ground floor of Aragon Tower, the promised part of Section 106 money (money for the community) that never materialised, but with no luck. We’re now in the process of negotiating and I hope we can find another space.”

Despite all the things Luciana is involved in and the fact that she has a family with 2 children, she is at Pepys library most days, always helping people with what they need. I have been to the Resource Centre on a few occasions and have shared many beautiful moments with Luciana, Joyce and others. The loving energy that is put into this community space and which comes off the group and the people they work with is heart-warming and contagious. Luciana is an educator, but not the kind of educator that likes to put fixed ideas into people’s heads. She’s not the kind that views education as indoctrination. For her, education is an exchange of ideas, where she learns with her pupils more than she teaches them. “I’m not the one that has all the answers. Everyone has a talent, a skill, something they are good at. If you give people a chance to share their skill, they can flourish. I’m trying to build on this idea that community is based on exchanging, on giving and receiving, on respecting, trusting and tolerating. At the same time, I’m learning how not to do things or how to do things differently. It’s hard to explain. Imagine we live in communities without money, where we all exchange our talents and skills, where we share and teach each other. This is the basis of this library.”

Luciana has a very simple vision for the world – for people to be happy. “People, communities, are what really matter in this world. It is not about the individual but about living together – there has to be balance between individual needs and the needs of the commune, and when this balance is right, we can feel happy. It’s about humanity and whilst humanity is inherently good, there is a shadow. I once did a performance about this dichotomy of good and bad, which I wrote about the Cherokee myth of the two wolves. In this piece, the granddad said to his children: ‘There are two wolves inside all of us. One is full of greed, anger and vanity and other negative emotions; the other is full of compassion, kindness, empathy – all the good emotions. The two wolves are fighting a battle and the one that will win is the one we feed’. So, if we feed ourselves with negative things, we will be full of bad energy but if we feed ourselves with kindness, compassion and all the things that are good for our soul, then we’ll be happy and others around us will be happy too. Therefore, we need to promote peace and love”.

I ask Luciana how her vision of the world relates to what is happening in Deptford. She thinks that the council and the government in general are feeding their bad wolves with greed, money and profit, creating very bad energy in the area. “For them, many people, particularly those on the bottom of the social ladder, are simply invisible in their drive for profit. Those people are invisible to them – these people have no voice, no choice, no rights, no opportunities to be listened to and to be seen. I think that if Tidemill Garden or Reginald House were in Telegraph Hill, Blackheath or in Brockley, where many wealthy people reside, the demolition of the garden and the house would never happen because people with money are also the people with power, and the council would listen to them. But poor people have no voice, they are nobodies in the eyes of the council. Instead of equality it is all about quality, meaning those with more money and power are seen to be higher quality beings and so their wishes and desires are given priority. There is a huge lack of empathy in this world, a huge lack of love for others who have less. We are not important for the government, we are nothing, we are disposable to them, and we don’t have the same rights. We don’t have the right to keep our green spaces, our community spaces, the right to the river, even the right to our homes or the choice to take part in decisions about our homes. Instead of socially cleansing areas, people should be given a voice in what happens here, opportunities to share their talent, to improve their skills, and to make them a valued part of the community. We should work with the idea of becoming one, that we are one in this world, and not enforce segregation. I think the Age of Aquarius will come but before we enter an era of love, I fear there’s going to be a really painful moment, a really hard time where the big bad wolf, the devil of the government, will win the battle. That’s why we started WE Women – not because we don’t care about men or think they have no sensibilities, or that we want all the power for women, but because we need to find a balance between masculine and feminine energy. At present, the power of men is still oppressive. A lot is about money, control and power and less about caring and sharing. This energy needs balancing out with the female energy of love. We don’t want to turn the table, but we want feminine energy to surface more so we can eat together on the same table; where we both prepare the table and eat together.”

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