Pat Fordham MBE has been at the heart of the Bellingham community for a generation.
She is a resident and founding Chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s first resident-led housing association.
Pat spoke to us about the role of culture in preserving heritage and nurturing community spirit.
Would you say you’ve always been a community activist?
‘Yes. The community that I came from went through a war and they came together to do whatever was needed to be done.
‘There was always someone around to look after Mrs Jones’ children while she went and did her cleaning job. It was a lovely community.
‘Communities take a hell of a long time to form, you can’t do it overnight, it’s got to be grassroots.’
How do you think the culture of Lewisham has impacted you?
‘When I came, there were some people of colour but not many, it was predominantly white, but now the mix is getting better, and I find it extremely interesting. What you learn from people is very important. The only barrier sometimes is language not colour.
‘If you’re going to help people settle in this country, it’s got to start with someone and somewhere. If one group has got a problem, there’s many more you don’t hear about. I’ve always found the way to deal with it is to go out and meet the community. I believe more should be taken on and kids should be given that responsibility to help someone else so that culture goes around and around in circles again.’
How did Phoenix come to buy the Fellowship Inn?
‘The pub was really a no-go area at one time. ‘Local people wouldn’t use it and it went to rack and ruin.
It was in a horrendous state and we thought it was a great idea to turn it around.
‘So Jim Ripley, Phoenix’s chief executive, said we were willing to buy the pub and eventually that was agreed.
‘Out of the blue, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) decided to look into preserving pubs which they hadn’t done before, so we applied for funding and were successful.’
‘We never thought in a million years we’d get £4.5m to sort this place out.’
‘This place is called ‘the Fellowship’ for a reason as the estate was built between the beginning and end of the First World War and it was for homes for heroes. Everyone was involved in it. We had people at the stations giving out surveys and asking people what they would like to see.
‘People wanted a cinema and that’s how the cinema was chosen. The rooms upstairs are for community work, so it is very much a community pub. It’s now The Fellowship and Star and it’s almost like what the pub was before, but with a different slant and way of working. We’re very proud of it.’
How does being part of the community make you feel happy?
‘What makes me feel happy [about Bellingham] is that there is now a sign to Bellingham as there was nothing to indicate where it was.
‘We used to have our own tenants association at the top and bottom ends. People came together on a regular basis and came to places like the Fellowship Inn to play bingo and watch pantomimes and things like that.’
‘Bellingham was never on the map but the culture here is fantastic.’
‘When I go into The Green Man, and you walk through that door and people are laughing and talking, it’s that kind of thing…you’re welcomed in and I think that catches on. Everybody is welcome whether they are part of us or not. That place was built with love.’
‘Before, Bellingham and Downham never mixed. Bromley Road was like a barrier, like the Berlin wall or something. Now we’re Phoenix. So that’s another together isn’t it?’
What do you think about our Borough of Culture bid?
‘For this to become the best Borough of Culture we need to include the families, and the children of those families, as those children are the future movers and shakers when we’re no longer around.’