projects completes community venue on Old Kent Road

What if: projects’ engagement with making planning processes accessible to the wider neighbourhood of Old Kent Road started with setting up community interest group Peckham Weeklies in 2014 followed by a series of events and publications organised with Action Old Kent Road, including the Old Kent Road Urban Road campaign in 2019.

Tailored to the social and physical context of the area, LEX 2 is another example of this practice. The venue’s first phase was completed in July 2023, when its client, Livesey Exchange (LEX), a new black-led organisation which established itself through the process, moved into it.

The locally-led initiative and programme, which provides affordable workspace with a generous communal space for socialising, learning and cultural activities, was funded by the GLA and the London Borough of Southwark.

The scheme was initiated in 2015 by local resident Nicholas Okwulu of social enterprise Pempeople and developed by Ulrike Steven, a resident of Old Kent Road and co-founder of what if: projects.

Kickstarted through the Mayor’s Crowdfunding Campaign in 2016, LEX has evolved across two previously unused sites owned by Southwark along the Old Kent Road, including the ongoing but temporary use of Ledbury Estate garages (LEX 1) for workshops, exhibitions and events, informing the programme for the new buildings of LEX 2 on a smaller site.

To suit a phased delivery and available funding, LEX was conceived as two separate buildings linked by a tall entrance structure with stairs and lift. The completed first phase included the removal of waste from the site, foundations and underground services for the new structures and the first of the two buildings: a box wrapped in grey corrugated metal cladding with large glazing elements.

Internally, the walls are finished as exposed CLT, with the spaces on both floors boasting high floor-to-ceiling heights to accommodate a variety of different programmes, including light industrial use.

The ground-floor double-height multi-use space has a high-level window, while the first-floor glazed corridor has views of the future Old Kent Road development sites, where more than 20,000 homes are planned.

Designed for disassembly, the scheme is constructed from 70 per cent CLT so that the building can be reconstructed on another site at the end of its current 10-15 year lease of the site. The contractor created a hyper-granular BIM model to ensure that there was hardly any construction waste and precise detailing of all fixings and services to enable dismantling of structural elements, cladding and windows. Cast-concrete floors with underfloor heating on both floors are powered by an air source heat pump, while the scheme has a blue roof to reduce rainwater run-off from the site.

For the delivery of the building, LEX assembled a diverse team of small companies, including BAME-led contractor Work and LGBTQ+ practice what if: projects.

Funding for the second phase of the construction from Southwark was announced in July and is scheduled for 2024, along with external landscaping.

Architect’s view

Livesey Exchange is a valuable case study and demonstration project on how more truly community-led capital projects could be enabled. It is a real achievement that after seven years, we finally completed the first phase of LEX. The opening in July was a special moment on this long and, at times, challenging journey. It brought together many of the people who were there from the start and have continued supporting the project. Without the different partners’ long-term commitment and willingness to collaborate and build trust, the Livesey Exchange would not have happened. Big major events impacting LEX’s progress, including Grenfell, Brexit, Covid and rising inflation, could have totally derailed and stopped the project. Instead, and through a multi-faceted collaboration, a new client organisation was enabled to lead a publicly funded project and thus directly impact the shaping of its neighbourhood.

While the new building for LEX is a significant output of our involvement, I draw attention to the easily overlooked but crucial work that has taken time and has enabled the project. Much of our design work over the past seven years has focused on designing the process and communicating with the client group, future users, stakeholders, funders and the wider public. Public events that created new spatial experiences and involved hands-on workshops and large models of the proposed buildings and the high street context were critical to the engagement and breaking down barriers to planning processes.

Events involving over 800 people into the design dialogue were organised with Pempeople, community interest group Action OKR/Peckham Weeklies, business association Vital OKR, students from London Met, UCL, CSM and many local makers and artists. The body of evidence and knowledge built over many years through this process created a mandate for the project, supported funding applications and informed the design of the new buildings.
Ulrike Steven, director and co-founder, what if: projects


Client’s view

Livesey Exchange was born from wanting to harness the immense talent and creativity in the borough of Southwark and the area around Old Kent Road. From its inception in 2015 to the completion of phase one in 2023, it has engaged residents like no other project in the borough. But the best is yet to come. Since opening the first building this summer, more residents are queuing up to use the space than we can accommodate. Everybody loves it. People like the aesthetic of the building. It’s a hub that people feel they can use. A black-led and new organisation being the client of a project like this is unusual and a real achievement that raises aspirations for many local people and community groups.
Nicholas Okwulu, director, Livesey Exchange

Funder’s view

The design team is made up of local practitioners whose commitment to working with the community has been evidenced throughout the process. Based on sound first principles of environmentally conscious design and best practice, the resulting scheme demonstrates a hugely satisfying achievement that is clever, stylish and good value for money. Its location on the Old Kent Road, alongside the extensive and high-rise pipeline development projects, will provide a welcome counter-point in scale and character. Funded by a mix of public funding, private funding and crowdfunding sourced from the local community, this project exemplifies what a community project can be and is one with which the Council is proud to be associated with.
Matt Derry, London Borough of Southwark

I am delighted to see the first phase of this vital community hub take shape on the Old Kent Road. A better, fairer London for all is realised when communities have spaces to come together to work, learn and relax; the Livesey Exchange encapsulates this ideal, ensuring strong local roots are maintained in a rapidly developing area of our city. I am proud of the support the Mayor has been able to give this project through his Good Growth Fund, and I look forward to further developments as new buildings come into use.
Jules Pipe, deputy mayor of London for planning, regeneration and skills, GLA


Resident’s view

I have lived on Old Kent Road for 40 years. Old Kent Road is undergoing tremendous change due to its designated Opportunity Area Status and the consequent regeneration of the area. Whilst this may benefit existing residents and businesses, there is also the risk of displacement with local people pushed out, unable to afford to live here or pursue their hopes and dreams, as has become increasingly common throughout London.

The Old Kent Road area is hugely racially and culturally diverse, with few places supporting local entrepreneurs to develop their talents, increase their networks and test out ideas. Space like LEX is crucial for these vital opportunities to continue and flourish. The space and encouragement provided by LEX are pivotal in helping people, especially young people, develop their creative ideas, gain wider recognition and further their careers. The range of local talent, from podcasts, filmmaking, design and bicycle repairs developed through the support of LEX is inspiring both for those trying things out and, importantly, for those thinking about future possibilities.

The community needs local spaces that are welcoming, accessible and affordable. Spaces that can help bring people from all sections of society together. This is how stable, strong neighbourhoods develop and grow.
Janine Rowe


Project data

Start on site December 2021
Completion March 2023 (phase 1)
Gross internal floor area 286m2
Gross (internal + external) floor area 726m2 (the site)
Form of contract Design and build
Construction cost £1,194,000
Architect what if: projects (RIBA stages 0-5)
Client Livesey Exchange
Structural engineer Techniker (RIBA stages 0-4)
M&E consultant Max Fordham
QS Stockdale
Employer’s agent what if: projects (RIBA stages 5-7)
Archaeologist Compass Archaeology
Ecologist SImlaw Ecology
Site investigation consultant Soils
Fire engineer Socotec
Acoustic consultant Max Fordham
Project manager Wendy Cummins
Principal designer what if: projects
Approved building inspector Harwood
Main contractor Two Work
CAD software used hyper granular BIM

Environmental performance data

Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >2% Approximately 95%
Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >5% Approximately 95%
On-site energy generation 0%
Annual mains water consumption 0.33 l/occupant/day
Airtightness at 50Pa 1.66 m3/h.m2
Heating and hot water load Approximately 10.3 kWh/m2/yr
Overall area-weighted U-value 0.26 W/m2K
Design life Minimum 50 years for cladding, 100 years+ for CLT
Embodied/whole-life carbon TBC
Annual CO2 emissions 14.3 kgCO2eq/m2
Energy rating A
Rainwater run-off 1.38 l/s